In contrasting developments, one high-profile loyalist flags protest leader has received bail after claiming to suffer from terminal cancer, while another has moved into the UVF paramilitary landing of Maghaberry Prison.
The 23-year-old Jamie Bryson this week requested the transfer to a section of Maghaberry which is chiefly occupied by UVF paramilitaries -- including several notorious sectarian killers.
After months of riots and other disturbances over the decision last December of Belfast city council to reduce the flying of the British Union Jack flag above City Hall, three ringleaders -- Bryson, Frazer and another man, Jim Dowson, were charged with public order offences.
Bryson was refused bail earlier this month after taunting PSNI police on the internet that they were unable to catch him.
While he has always denied being a member of a paramilitary group, Bryson recently referred to the UVF during a speech as “the people’s army” and has ironically portrayed himself as a revolutionary figure in the style of Bobby Sands. Following his detention he undertook a hunger strike -- only to end it the next day with an Indian curry.
The charges against the three men mainly stem from legislation which makes unnotified marches or processions illegal. They are the first loyalists to be charged under the legislation in the past three years -- while 147 republicans have been charged for the same offence over the same period.
The DUP party leader Peter Robinson provoked a controversy last week when he loudly condemned the PSNI and Six-County judiciary for the arrests of the three and the initial bail decisions.
That controversy continued this week after Robinson reiterated his claims and insisted he would “not be silenced” by judicial figures who protested his remarks.
Unionist Assembly member Basil McCrea, who left the Ulster Unionist Party during the fall-out from the flags dispute, said the decision to refuse Bryson bail and his move to a section of the prison reserved for loyalist paramilitaries should come as little surprise.
“People were always aware that there was an undercurrent connected to the situation and I fully support the stance taken by the judiciary,” he said.
“Political leaders, particularly those who speak for major parties, need to choose their words carefully and appropriately so as not to undermine the basis of democracy.”
Despite Robinson’s claims, only around 20 loyalists have so far been remanded in custody in connection with the intense violence of the past few months. Republicans have frequently pointed out the difference between the hands-off treatment of loyalists and the brutal treatment and arrests of peaceful republican protestors.
Meanwhile, a judge agreed to release the 52-year-old Frazer Willie after being told he had “incurable cancer”.
Food was also refused by Frazer for a brief period during his detention before he resumed eating.
Under his bail conditions he is prohibited from making any public speeches. The flag protest leaders have previously called for arrested loyalists to refuse bail, but Frazer this week accepted bail conditions requiring him to stay away from the loyalist disturbances.
Asked by Justice Weir whether he would give his word to keep to the conditions, Frazer replied via video link from Maghaberry Prison: “A hundred per cent, your honour.”
He is also accused of three counts of taking part in an unnotified public procession, obstructing traffic in a public place and possession of a prohibited weapon, namely a Taser.