I suspect that a fairly sizeable majority of people - from both sides of the fence - didn't know that the Union flag flew all the year round over Belfast City Hall. It's probably the sort of thing that most unionists never gave all that much thought to: the sort of below-the-radar, unspoken stuff that wouldn't usually gives them much cause for concern.
Until, that is, someone tells them that there's a plan to either prevent the flying of the flag altogether, or limit it to a very specific number of days: a plan, moreover, that's been hatched by Sinn Fein. And then the hackles of both big-U and small-U unionism tend to rise.
Now then, whatever your view of Alliance's 'compromise' solution of reducing flag flying to designated days, they took a public decision, defended it in public and voted for it in public. There was, of course, an electoral calculation at the root of their decision: as there is at the root of most political decisions. They have been making progress in both south and east Belfast and reckoned that their 'compromise' solution would play well with both 'soft' unionists and nationalists.
The UUP and DUP also made a calculation - based on the expectation that they were probably going to be out voted at Council. The DUP wants to recapture Peter Robinson's Parliamentary seat and the UUP wants to protect Michael Copeland and Michael McGimpsey's Assembly seats, plus a number of vulnerable council seats. So, they jointly produced and distributed 40,000 leaflets which, using the most benign interpretation, suggested that Alliance could not be trusted to protect and promote both unionism and symbols of the UK.
But you cannot carry out that sort of hyping-it-up operation and then feign surprise if other elements - shadowy, violent and undemocratic - plan their own responses by way of FaceBook and Twitter. Sammy Wilson accused Alliance of opening a Pandora's Box by seeming to side with Sinn Fein, but so too did the UUP and DUP when it distributed those leaflets. Some 'loyalists' were saying that they had no choice but to resort to protests of this nature, but that's exactly the sort of argument that Sinn Fein and the IRA used to trot out to justify their assorted protests and violence.
Unionists are a minority - albeit a slim one - on the Council. Yet electoral evidence would suggest that their minority status is largely attributable to the fact that growing numbers of people from a unionist/pro-Union background are not voting for them. Indeed, the UUP has been reduced to just three seats, having lost a number to Alliance. So the proper response, the truly democratic response to what happened on Monday night, would be for the unionist parties, singly or collectively, to orchestrate an electoral/propaganda campaign which delivers more seats for them.
Instead, the activities of the last few days have allowed Sinn Fein to claim some sort of moral high ground after backing the 'compromise' solution, while Alliance looks like it is being bullied by a mob mentality egged on by UUP/DUP leaflets. At one level I think Alliance has been damaged by how it voted on Monday, but I'm pretty sure that what has happened since then means that neither the DUP nor UUP will reap electoral dividends.
And the irony, it should be noted, is that the designated days 'compromise' isn't really a solution at all. Yes, the parties may have agreed to designated-day flying on Parliament Buildings, but no-one is suggesting that the compromise has led to any additional harmony or cooperation between the power blocs up there.
The bigger questions are these: why, at both Assembly and council level, are both sides still fixated with the past and with symbols; and wouldn't it really be better for everyone and for cross-community relations if they prioritised a socio/economic agenda to cope with the ongoing austerity and recession? In other words, instead of constantly building elephant traps for each other (and the DUP has already said it wants to revisit flag flying at the Assembly), why don't they try and shore up common ground and common interests?
Yet the flags issue, like the murder of David Black, the Jim Wells/Mary McArdle row and the naming of a playground in memory of a terrorist, suggests that we are still at that point in the peace process when a scratching of the surface - intended or otherwise - pushes people very quickly towards their respective corners. Indeed, that's probably why it has proved so difficult to agree on a 'shared future' strategy: because most of the parties, along with their supporters, don't have enough in common to create the structures required for genuine, credible sharing.
What the past week has graphically demonstrated - if it even needed demonstrated - is just how fragile and finely balanced relationships between all of us (not just the parties, either) remain. What worries me most, though, is that I detect no hard evidence that either side knows how to make the necessary breakthroughs. The compromises which tend to be opted for are, in reality, just more stalemates.