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Visit Belfast: Flag Issue Not Representative of People, City

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A few people ruining for the majority. That's the age-old story of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and that majority has been sick of it for decades.

To the American layperson, the image of Belfast remains stained by the brutal violence of the seventies, eighties, nineties and early 2000s. For many visitors to the island, this means intentionally not visiting the North, and instead ordering another pint in the Republic, while kissing the Blarney Stone and circling the Ring of Kerry.

Belfast was my home for two years, from 2005 to 2007. The city comprises the dearest, most loving and caring people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Protestant and Catholic alike. 99 percent of them would hate my labeling them that way, with the "P" and "C" words. But here I have to, to announce that there are so, so many residents of that city who think this flag issue is another chapter in the book of stupid local conflicts. And there is another section of the city yet even more perturbed; a section dedicated to peace work and reconciliation. There they sit, head in hands, as the media tells the world just the opposite of the truth: Belfast is the same old Belfast it always has been.

Now come articles implying the recent protests and violence over the flying of flags at City Hall are keeping Belfastians from shopping at City Centre. In a country where the economy is shaky on a good day, this presents a poignant problem for small business owners.

But articles like these present a global problem, as well. They send an incorrect message, read and misinterpreted by so many. Any media publication, for that matter, that covers the small group of people who protest, riot and who make a bigger scene of this matter than necessary is simultaneously doing that great city and its people a disservice.

Yes, these events have to be covered. They are a continuation of a story that at one time encapsulated the world, with its most famous chapter published in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. But the story has since had several chapters of a different tone, containing not petrol bombs but smiles, not stone throwing but hands shaking, not division but neighborhood unification.

Go and visit Belfast. Yes, you will see the flags and the murals that provide the backdrop to the negative stories that flood the news. But you will not see enough active disagreement to justify the attention these topical issues receive.

My bet is that you will meet people who live in the future. People who want nothing more than their city to be known for the attitudes of the kind and caring, and not for those living 30 years in past.