Anti-NI Protocol rally may be ‘largest one yet’ - organisers claim up to 4000 could attend

Organisers behind an anti-NI Protocol Rally in Portadown this Saturday claim that it will likely be the largest one yet - with up to 4000 attending.

Loyalists take part in a peaceful protest in the Shore Road area of North Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Flyers circulating on social media claim it is being organised by the ‘Mid Ulster Coalition’ of loyalists and unionists and will meet in the town centre at 3pm.

As with all such protests, the flyer slams the NI Protocol and what organisers describe as “two tier policing”.

A source close to the event told the News Letter: “Saturday is going to be a lot bigger than anything before, we expect 3000-4000.”

Organisers have not applied to the Parades Commission, meaning that it may be in breach of parading legislation.

Current Covid restrictions also limit outdoor gatherings to 500 spectators and 500 participants and require a risk assessment for events larger than 30 people.

It is understood there will be bands and a number of speakers on unionist themes but none of them high profile, which the source suggested signifies the bottom-up nature of discontent over the NI Protocol and policing.

He said the event was being organised as a peaceful rally - which he fully supported - but that he feared violence later this summer.

The majority of such protests have been peaceful but a few violent events previously left 100 police injured.

DUP Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart said people have a right to protest but it is important to abide by the rule of law.

“Opposition to the Protocol is growing by the day right across the community of Northern Ireland,” she said. “Those who turn a blind eye to this opposition show little regard for the people of Northern Ireland. As MP for Upper Bann the message I have for the Government is clear – the Protocol has to go.”

David Campbell, Chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council, responded that it would be “a mistake to think that the relative calm of the past few weeks is in any way a sign of acceptance of the NI Protocol and the well documented injustices against the unionist community - quite the opposite.”

He added: “The parades and rallies over the past month have attracted thousands of peaceful protestors and I would envisage the Portadown Rally being no less.

“There have been encouraging noises from UK Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, again this week confirming his belief that the Protocol is unsustainable. The European Commission and the Irish Government however remain intransigent, albeit I suspect they know they have made a dangerous mistake. We now look to HM Government to act as well as talk, and unilaterally abandon the Protocol.”

He also described an Irish Language Act as “toxic”.

Chief Inspector Barney O’Connor said: “At this time we have not been contacted by organisers of a protest being planned on social media for Portadown on Saturday. I would encourage anyone planning any such events to engage with their local police to ensure the safety of all.”

Asked for clarity around current Covid safety requirements, the PSNI directed all queries to the Northern Ireland Executive.

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