Resident to go to court over protest

Resident to go to court over protest

A Short Strand resident is preparing to launch a high court battle over loyalist flag protesters walking past the nationalist area in east Belfast, UTV Live Tonight can reveal.

Demonstrators have been gathering at Belfast City Hall every Saturday afternoon since the council decision in early December to restrict the flying of the flag from outside the historic building to 18 designated days.

A number of flag protests have returned from City Hall past the Short Strand interface where violence erupted earlier this month.

Police came under attack from petrol bombs, fireworks and bricks and homes were damaged in some of the most violent scenes since the start of the flag dispute after loyalist and nationalist crowds clashed in the area.

On Friday, one resident will argue at the High Court that the weekly flag protest to and from City Hall is a parade.

The Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 states it is an offence to organise or take part in a parade that has not been notified to the Parades Commission.

The emergency hearing, taken against the PSNI and the Secretary of State, will come on the eve of Saturday's weekly protest.

Solicitor Padraig Ó Muirigh said the action is not designed to stoke up tensions.

"Tensions in this community have been heightened since early December, but it's hoped that judicial review and clarification by the court will move the situation forward and clarify issues in relation to the Chief Constable and Secretary of State," he explained.

Mr Ó Muirigh said the residents are calling for the police to intervene.

These parades are illegal and participants and organisers of these parades are committing criminal offences, so this community wants to see the police take action in relation to that.

Solicitor Padraig Ó Muirigh

"Failing to do that, the Secretary of State also has a power which she is failing to exercise. We hope that the court can clarify this," he added.

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile, who knows the resident who lodged the papers, said: "This man is understandably upset, he's angry at the PSNI facilitation of these illegal parades so this for him is a last option."

"This is the legal and democratic path that's open to him and the community in the Short Strand support him in that endeavour."

A spokesperson for the Parades Commission said they had been notified of 14 Union flag related parades.

"It has not, however, received any notifications regarding recent events taking place in Belfast on Saturdays," the Parades Commission said.

"Where proper notice of a parade is not given, organisers and those taking part are committing an offence under the Public Processions Act and it is currently a matter for the PSNI."

Police said they are in discussion with the Ulster People's Forum, the group behind the Saturday protests. On Wednesday night, the organisation revealed a change in tactic - replacing roadblocks with white line pickets.

"There was a frank and constructive dialogue in relation to peaceful and legal protests and parades. Police were explicit that all protests need to be lawful and peaceful," the PSNI said.

"Discussion also took place in relation to the human rights framework that underpins policing, breaches of the law and the associated criminal justice strategy that is being implemented."

Earlier on Thursday, NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers again called for the protests to end.

"I think the protests need to come off the streets and be replaced by a dialogue about flags and symbols.

"We all know that these issues can create tension and it's only by talking about it, and by political leadership getting together to resolve these issues, that we can actually make progress."

Cllr Ó Donnghaile said Short Strand residents are hoping the legal action will force authorities to take action against the disruption.

"We've seen and heard from prominent business leaders in the city how they have been adversely affected, but the reality is that for many people living on both sides of the interface these illegal parades have had a really negative and detrimental impact on their lives over the last seven or eight weeks."


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