Police 'allowed illegal flag protests'

Published Wednesday, 12 June 2013
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Police allowed Union flag protestors to stage illegal marches into Belfast city centre every week for up to three months, the High Court has heard.

Police 'allowed illegal flag protests'
Riot police pictured during rioting on the lower Newtownards Road in Belfast (© Presseye)

Lawyers for a nationalist resident claimed all those involved in the unnotified parades should have been arrested for criminal offences.

The PSNI operation undermined laws put in place to govern public processions in Northern Ireland, a judge was told.

Legal proceedings have been brought over marches from east Belfast staged every Saturday from December until the end of February.

Violence flared on several occasions as participants heading for City Hall, to protest at the decision to limit the flying of the Union flag, passed the Catholic Short Strand enclave.

An unidentified man, who lives in the area, is seeking to judicially review both the PSNI and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

His legal team want a declaration that the failure of police to stop demonstrators travelling along the route breached parading legislation.

Under the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998, which was brought in after major disorder across Northern Ireland linked to the Drumcree dispute, notification of marches must be given to the Parades Commission.

The resident also claims his right to privacy was violated by the protests.

The Secretary of State has been drawn into the case due to her alleged failure to exercise powers to prohibit public processions.

Earlier in the proceedings, an east Belfast woman who took part in the mass walks into the city centre was refused permission to intervene in the case.

Opening the Short Strand man's challenge, Karen Quinlivan QC said DVD footage shows PSNI Landrovers at the front of the weekly marches, with more officers at the sides and rear.

Ms Quinlivan told Mr Justice Treacy that police were "effectively escorting protestors to City Hall."

Her contention was that the operation failed to either prevent an illegal parade or arrest those involved.

"Those people who participated in these parades to Belfast City Hall on those dates were guilty of criminal offences, aside from any associated disorder," she said.

Ms Quinlivan pointed out that responsibility for determinations on marches had passed from police to the Parades Commission.

The barrister claimed the Public Processions Act had been "fundamentally undermined... by the Chief Constable taking upon himself the role of deciding if the parades should take place."

She added: "Effectively police enabled loyalist protestors to reinstate the situation which was in place prior to the establishment of the Parades Commission."

Senior counsel for the PSNI rejected the claim that marchers should have been subsequently arrested and prosecuted.

According to Tony McGleenan QC it could have resulted charges being brought against tens of thousands of people who took part in protests across Northern Ireland.

Police were making operational decisions in a highly-charged, contentious situation, he argued.

Mr Justice Treacy was told senior officers took into account resource constraints, political considerations, the wider community and risk to life.

Concerns about paramilitary involvement and the prospect of action that could inflame violence also featured.

"It may appear that you could clear the road of fifteen protestors, but in two hours time you may face a riot involving three hundred or a thousand," Mr McGleenan pointed out.

"Police are clearly alive to the fact that in certain communities closely involved in these protests there have been very sinister elements orchestrating protests."

The hearing continues.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
21 Comments
steve in sandymount dublin 4 wrote (435 days ago):
two laws in the north for unionists and nationals and we know who the british wil side with..???
alan in belfast wrote (436 days ago):
seriously.... didnt the parades commission, say this fell outside their remit? so who determines it as illegal? this guy claims breach of privacy, and that all marchers/protesters shouldve been arrested! I wonder if this man agrees with this when nationalist/republican protesters block the road at ardoyne after the PC has okayed the orangemen, and banned their protest? doesnt the same apply to these people...... no no no this is where he would then claim the protesters human rights have been breached.... I wonder if his lawyer showed the video of the 1st week when their was disorder, when the short strand kids threw bricks and bottles, which had been collected in rucksac? i assume no.
maureen in belfast wrote (436 days ago):
Another so called resident taking the psni to court and using legal aid to pay for it
John in co.armagh wrote (436 days ago):
Nothing more than a show case to bash the PSNI, if anyone could have been prosecuted for the right to protest is is sad day, no doubt the truth be said there would be alot of short strand residents prosecuted for attacking a peaceful protest also if the PSNI had applied the law in a fair and impartial way
steve in sandymount dublin 4 wrote (436 days ago):
loyalists still think they are 76 percent population of belfast but[42 percent]they will fine it lot harder to bully in these change times..????
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