Two weeks ago, the Apartment Bar opposite Belfast City Hall received a letter from Stormont’s Department of the Environment. An advertising banner inside the bar’s front window constituted illegal signage under the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, the letter warned. Failure to remove it within 14 days would incur a fine of £2,500 (€3,000) plus £250 for each day thereafter.
Meanwhile on the internet, plans were being laid for a flag protest at the front of City Hall that would involve 1,000 people illegally obstructing the road, before illegally marching into east Belfast, and sparking a riot. None of the organisers, who can be readily identified through their Facebook pages, have so far been threatened with fines for breaching the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 or the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, which ironically bans “obstruction” and “unauthorised advertisements” in the same section.
When flag protesters began blocking Northern Ireland’s roads seven weeks ago many complaints about the policing response focused on the difference between loyalist and republican demonstrations, specifically the contrast with North Belfast last summer when republicans sat down in the road to block an Orange Order parade and the PSNI promptly dragged them off.
In fact, there is no right to protest in either domestic or European law. The concept is inferred from the rights to free assembly and free expression — which are secondary to public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and the preservation of a democratic society.
Flag protesters have rode roughshod over all these concerns and it is irresponsible to indulge any notion of their “right” to do so. The intimidating daily pickets of Alliance party offices in east Belfast, for example, are breaking the Human Rights Act rather than exercising it. They are also breaking the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997."In full here.