Peter Shirlow, professor of conflict transformation at Queen's University Belfast, says the loyalist working class feels disenfranchised.
"The loyalist community can't make sense of what's happening [in the peace process]. They see it all as a one-way process," he says.
Mr. Shirlow, who has worked with loyalists in research projects, says despite unionism's goal – the maintenance of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom – being strengthened by power sharing, unionists still hark back to their glory days of majority rule.
"In unionism you have a romanticized view of the past: 'There was this nice wee [little] place and then the IRA came along and wrecked it.' Unionism is riddled with fear – the discourse is about future defeat."
There was a tense atmosphere in Belfast city center Saturday afternoon when approximately 1,500 loyalists gathered at City Hall to protest the decision to no longer fly the flag. Although the crowd had dispersed by 3 p.m., violence flared in east Belfast.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Belfast Friday, urged calm. Despite being welcomed by politicians on both sides, her appeals fell on deaf ears.