Authorities in dark over plans for flag protest

Gardaí have not received notification from the org-anisers of a controversial protest on the union flag issue, just days before a planned demonstration outside Leinster House.

The Ulster People’s Forum has signalled its intention to bring 150 protesters to Dublin this Saturday in what it says is an attempt to highlight loyalist anger at Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the UK flag only on certain days

The North, and Belfast in particular, has witnessed serious unrest and rioting over the issue, and Ulster People’s Forum spokesman Willie Frazer said last weekend that the Dublin event was going ahead because loyalists were “sick” of writing letters.

Yesterday, the Garda press office confirmed that no notification had been received regarding Saturday’s proposed event.

In 2006, Mr Frazer was involved in the Love Ulster parade in Dublin, an event which was prevented from taking place when rioting broke out on O’Connell St.

A Garda spokesman said: “An Garda Síochána facilitates peaceful protests and, in the course of any one year, we would facilitate in excess of one hundred protests outside Dáil Éireann. We fully recognise people’s democratic right to peacefully protest and will facilitate this.

“We also recognise the rights of others to go about their lawful business and the day-to-day needs of the business community operations and local residents. We would urge any organisations who intend to protest to notify An Garda Síochána and other local authorities.”

Under laws aimed at maintaining the peace, a superintendent in charge has the power to refuse access to a protest or location. However, groups protesting are not legally obliged to give advance notice of a demonstration.

Given fears that those involved in Saturday’s event could be targeted by other groups, it opens the possibility that the superintendent in Pearse St Garda Station could prevent the demonstration from going ahead.

Speaking on Today with Pat Kenny on RTÉ radio yesterday, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said: “I’m not yet entirely clear what’s intended this Saturday, [but] gardaí will be prepared for any eventually.”

He said he hoped that views could be expressed and added that events in the North recently were of great concern, with the PSNI being targeted and what he called criminal terrorists being engaged in subversion.

Attempts to contact Mr Frazer yesterday proved unsuccessful, but speaking on 4FM on Monday, he said the protest would be called off if gardaí voiced serious concerns.

“If the gardaí come to us and say: ‘Listen, there’s going to be massive trouble in Dublin,’ we will say: Well OK then, there is no point in us going down to Dublin’,” he said.

“We are not going to be used as scapegoats for the arrogance and ignorance of republicans.

“It’s a long time until Saturday. If we believe that the use of violence or the threat of violence is going to succeed, we do have a brain in our heads and we’re not out to create trouble.”

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