A NATIONALIST resident has cleared the first stage in a legal challenge to ongoing flag protests.
He was granted leave to seek a judicial review over claims that police are allowing illegal marches every week from east Belfast to the city centre.
A judge was told the Catholic neighbourhood where he lives is being besieged in a situation which has turned the law on its head.
Karen Quinlivan QC said: "It's our case that the police response has effectively facilitated and encouraged a wholesale bypass of the legislative scheme put in place by Parliament to deal with contentious parades in Northern Ireland."
The emergency High Court proceedings were brought over demonstrations being held every Saturday since the decision in December to restrict the flying of the Union flag at city hall.
Violence has flared as loyalist protesters pass the Short Strand enclave en route to their destination.
One resident, who was granted anonymity at the start of the hearing, brought a challenge against both the PSNI and the secretary of state.
His case centres on a claim that the weekly flag protest to and from city hall is an unauthorised parade.
Under the terms of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998, established following major disorder linked to the Drumcree dispute, notification of parades must be given to the Parades Commission.
Claiming the legislation was being repeatedly violated, Ms Quinlivan contended: "This is not confined to the issue of those engaged in violence.
"Every single participant in that march is engaged in illegal activity. Every single participant ought to be arrested and prosecuted for breach of the legislation."
She questioned why no action was being taken against organisers appearing on television shows and in the press.
"It's one thing for loyalists to flout the law, it's another thing for the police to facilitate that," the barrister argued.
Ms Quinlivan further submitted that her client's right to privacy was being violated by the protests, arguing that police have an obligation to offer protection.
The secretary of state has been drawn into the case due to her alleged failure to exercise powers to prohibit public processions.
At one stage in the hearing Mr Justice Treacy questioned the timing of seeking a judicial re-view.
Pointing out that the situation appeared to be improving, he expressed concern that court proceedings could be counterproductive.
But Ms Quinlivan replied that evidence shows things were getting worse rather than better.
"People are feeling more and more besieged, people are feeling more and more threatened," she said.
The barrister referred to a statement from Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile, who attended court along with party colleague Alex Maskey, which claimed Short Strand residents felt unsupported by police.
Tony McGleenan QC, responding for the PSNI and secretary of state, argued that the challenge fell outside the governing legislation because no prior notification of demonstrations has been given to the P a r a d e s Commission.
He stressed, however, there has been a "gargantuan" operational effort to deal with trouble linked to the flag protests.
"It's quite wrong to say the police are turning a blind eye to illegality and facilitating public disorder," he said.
"Police have devoted massive resources in dealing with difficulties since December 3."
He confirmed that 128 officers had been injured during the violence.
Police have made 181 arrests, with 128 of those charged with offences.
"I say the court should show a degree of deference to operational decisions made by police in those circumstances," Mr McGleenan said.
However, Mr Justice Treacy ruled that an arguable case had been established against both the PSNI and the secretary of state.
He granted leave to apply for a judicial review and listed the case for a full two-day hearing beginning on April 16.
Although the judge acknowledged his decision was no indication of the final outcome, he said: "This case does raise important points both in relation to the obligations on the PSNI and also on the secretary of state."