DUP MLA challenges PSNI over moves to prosecute ‘NI Protocol protestors’

Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin MLA says the PSNI has “questions to answer” after officers delivered letters to a number of Markethill residents threatening possible prosecution over illegal parades.

Over the weekend the PSNI reportedly hand delivered at least 14 letters to individuals in Markethill about recent notified and unnotified parades in the area.

Police said the parades had breached parading legislation and Covid regulations and asked letter recipients to present themselves for interview. In recent weeks police have used a megaphone to warn participants in Markethill parades to disperse or face prosecutions.

But Mr Irwin claimed the actions of the PSNI in delivering letters to Markethill individuals stands “in stark contrast” to the police response to a pro-Palestinian parade in Armagh city centre on Saturday.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Banbridge Leisure Centre for Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann constituencies. William Irwin (DUP Newry/Armagh) makes his acceptance speech at the count. Photo by Tony Hendron / Press Eye.

Mr Irwin said: “This is an issue which is absolutely simmering in my community, where we have the PSNI arriving in car loads at the homes of young people issuing letters to them and within a matter of hours we have a parade in Armagh City in support of Gaza attended by elected representatives of Sinn Fein with no apparent ‘evidence gathering’ by the PSNI.”

“This is something I have raised with the PSNI senior team locally and I have conveyed my deep discontentment to them on this issue. There is the obvious vibe amongst my community of two tier policing, whereby the actions of the PSNI appear to be over the top when taken in the context of the actual situation on the ground.”

On Saturday there were also large crowds on the Shankill Road in Belfast celebrating Rangers FC winning the Scottish Premiership.

Police said they attended a large gathering in the Shankill area on Saturday in order to “engage, explain and encourage” people to adhere to Covid regulations.

PSNI Chief Inspector Darren Fox said the numbers involved were “clearly a breach of the [Covid] Regulations” and that an investigation is underway, with possible action following.

There were further reports on Saturday of a significant protest gathering at Belfast City Hall in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

Police said they attended an un-notified parade in Belfast City Centre on Saturday, starting at College Square and ending at City Hall.

Police said “a number of warnings were given” and an evidence-gathering operation was in place. All footage will now be reviewed regarding suspected breaches of parading and Covid regulations, police added.

Sinn Fein was invited to comment on the Armagh parade.

According to NI Direct, there are still significant restrictions on outdoor gatherings.

It says: “Up to 10 people (including children of all ages) from a maximum of two households can meet outdoors. You should maintain social distancing by being at least two metres apart, as well as good hand and respiratory hygiene practices. You may not organise, operate or take part in an outdoor gathering which consists of more than 10 people.”

The Executive office has said that from April 23, “static” band practice/rehearsal only would be permitted in agreed outdoor locations.

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