POET Seamus Heaney said loyalists should be allowed to fly the Union flag when they wanted.
And the 73-year-old said Sinn Fein was wrong to rush in to have the flag removed from Belfast City Hall all year round.
The writer and poet told The Irish Times on Tuesday that that the oning protests in Northern Ireland along with the violence was “very dangerous indeed”.
On December 3, Belfast City Council voted by 29-21 to only fly the flag on City Hall on designated days of the year.
It was a compromise by the Alliance Party after Sinn Fein proposed that the flag not be flown on any day of the year.
Violence has erupted on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere as loyalists took to the streets to protest.
However, the trouble has made international headlines around the world and local traders suffered as worried shoppers stayed away.
Seamus Heaney said that loyalists “perceive themselves as almost deserted”.
He added: “And right enough. I think Sinn Féin could have taken it easy. No hurry on flags.
“What does it matter? But – it matters utterly to them. And now there’s no way they’re going to go back on it, of course.
“There’s never going to be a united Ireland, you know. So why don’t you let them fly the flag.”
On Monday, it was revealed that deputy first minister Martin McGuinness had met flag protestors.
During OFMDFM questions he said, “I met with some people who were involved in the protests and I also met with some people who I believed could influence the ending of violence on the streets.”
Mr Heaney, who was born in Derry/Londonderry-born, described himself as person who “knows something of prejudice, from early on, I can understand the loyalists”.
“I remember at the very beginning of the Troubles in Derry, Eddie McAteer, a big nationalist politician, he was like the paterfamilias of nationalism. And he said, ‘Both sides are entitled to their pageantry!’.
“Which was a rather grand utterance, but true enough. But there’s no doubt that the loyalist side take the pageantry to extreme, they wipe the floor with the others,” said the poet who now lives in Dublin.
Flag protestors said they feared limiting the flying of the flag was an erosion of the rights of unionists and loyalists and “final straw”.
During the interview, Heaney said the flag was part of the loyalist “entitlement factor”.
Added the Nobel laureate: “Loyalism, or Unionism, or Protestantism, or whatever you want to call it, in Northern Ireland it operates not as a class system but a caste system.
“And they [the Loyalists] have an entitlement factor running; the flag is part of it.”
For nine weeks protestors have demonstrated across Northern Ireland, with some of the worst scenes of disorder focused on east Belfast and Newtownabbey, where police have come under attack from petrol bombs, fireworks and other missiles.
More than 100 officers have been injured and businesses, particularly in Belfast, say the continued disorder has cost them thousands of pounds in lost income.