Editor's Viewpoint: The law in Belfast must be upheld
It is clear that the law is being flouted during the current flag protests.
The weekly demonstrations into the centre of Belfast are not only causing enormous hardship to traders, but are also illegal. The protesters should be notifying the police and Parades Commission and receiving permission but are being allowed to congregate and parade without any formal consideration given. It seems that as far as the PSNI is concerned, the real concern is whether there is any violence or not.
This is an intolerable situation, especially given the sensitivity of parading in this province.
In effect the Parades Commission is being made redundant as why should other organisations bother asking for permission to demonstrate if the flag protests are allowed to continue with apparent impunity? Others will be watching these developments and may well decide to test the will of the police to challenge them.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the protests were allowed to gather their own momentum which now seems difficult to rein in. Certainly the UVF in east Belfast seems capable of switching on and off the violence, but getting the protesters to listen to any political direction is proving much more problematic. This was manifested by the reception given to First Minister Peter Robinson after meeting with various groups in east Belfast at the weekend. Some protesters tried to block his car and one hit it with a flagpole.
In the meantime, traders continue to suffer in spite of efforts to lure people back into Belfast city centre. As our report on the usually bustling St George's Market reveals, customers are seeking alternative destinations to avoid any confrontation with protesters.
The sight of protesters and riot police in the city centre is not conducive to attracting custom. The PSNI and legal authorities need to demonstrate that the law will take its course and that people taking part in illegal gatherings will end up before the courts, whether or not those demonstrations result in violence.