Why can’t we all just be friends?

It’s all terribly, terribly depressing isn’t it, this “flegs” carry-on? It shows no sign of abating and indeed if you keep an eye on social media (and I admit a certain obsession with all things Facebook and Twitter) is only shows signs of getting worse.

Without wanting to belittle or undermine those involved in the protests (for fear of a demo on the steps of the ‘Derry Journal’ offices) I can’t help but feel that a lot of people are getting their (Union Jack) knickers in a knot about a non-issue and are being manipulated by sinister forces determined to undermine the great work that has been done throughout the North over the last 20 years.

We have now found ourselves in a position where the ordinary people on the street are being bullied, harassed and intimidated by people who, I’m pretty sure, don’t truly even understand what they are protesting about.

Just as I have used this column in the past to hit out at the dissidents who seem intent on de-railing the peace process, I feel compelled to use it now to hit out at those who stand on the streets, faces covered, shouting their sectarian remarks and inciting an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

I’m sure there are a good number of people who do attend these protests and do keep the peace. But such gatherings are always going to attract a certain negative element who like causing trouble for trouble’s sake.

And similarly, such protests are likely to attract counter-protests from a certain negative element who cannot help but stir a pot which is already bubbling over.

The result is a lose-lose situation for everyone, not least the ordinary people of this country who just want to live their lives. The fact is the flag which flies over a building is not all that important. A country and its people are not merely represented by a flag. Who we are is not defined by a flag.

If a person is secure in their identity - be they British, Irish, Northern Irish or Outer Mongolian there is no need to drape themselves in a flag, resort to sectarian slurs or feel threatened by the workings of a democracy.

What worries me, and I suppose saddens me, most about all of this are the lessons we are teaching our young people. Some of those protesting on the streets are themselves just children, some of those shouting abuse, swear words and expressing their hatred so vocally never experienced the Troubles themselves. And yet despite this they hold in their hearts deep rooted sectarian bitterness and hatred.

I cannot for the life of me understand why parents would raise a child to hold hatred in their hearts so strongly?

And hatred is not too strong a word. After following the aforementioned social media sites I have been horrified by the strength of feeling expressed.

I understand passion and pride and I understand how emotions can sometimes get the better of you, but I cannot understand the entrenched hatred for people based solely on what flag they wish to fly and what religious affiliation they hold.

The language which has been used (on all sides of this debate, it has to be said) on social media has been so offensive it could not be repeated in a family newspaper. The threats issued, the plots hatched, the conspiracy theories and the downright hysteria surrounding what was, whether we like or not, a democratic decision, are shocking to read.

The storm has been whipped up by a band of keyboard warriors whose motives you have to question. Do they really want parity of esteem? Or do they want to win, to be perceived as better than the other side?

Do they really want to move on to a bright future for everyone or do they only want a bright future to apply to those they deem worthy? Do they really care about the issues which matter? The issues that affect each and every one of us regardless of our creed? Education, housing, benefits cuts, health care?

Are these not more important than what piece of cloth flies above a building in Belfast 365 days a year? Why not protest for what makes your day-to-day living more bearable. Why allow yourselves to be eaten up by hate and bigotry instead? What benefit is there to you by stirring up a storm on your own doorstep?

Those protesting have been granted parity of esteem with British citizens throughout the UK; the flag has not been disrespected, it has not been torn down, it has not been packed away in a case never to be seen again. Indeed it flew last week to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge and it will be flown on a further 16 occasions throughout the year as indeed it is in every city in the UK.

It is high time that people get their priorities right and realise what really does matter in this country we all share. For our sake and the sake of the children who do not need to be delivered into civil unrest and to have their childhoods tainted like so many of ours were. It is time to grow up, move on and as we would say in Northern Ireland, “Catch yerselves on”.