NI Protocol: ‘Paramilitaries are holding members back - but it’s not easy’ says councillor

Co Armagh Councillor Paul Berry says paramilitary groups are holding their members back with regards to the Northern Ireland Protocol - and waiting for political unionism to deal with the issue.

He was speaking after addressing an anti-protocol rally of some 200 people in Markethill last night. There was also an unnotified parade in the town, with members wearing masks and no uniforms.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson also addressed the rally.

Mr Berry said this morning: “The key message I gave to the crowd was that we want our unionist leaders to take a stand regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol and undermine it at every level in the Assembly - including at the ports.

Independent councillor Paul Berry

“The DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP must come around the table and negotiate a strategy so there will be no needs for protests on the streets.”

He said that he knows a number of businesses in his constituency which have suffered disruption due to suppliers in GB now refusing to ship products to them, due to the bureaucracy involved.

“And when the grace period ends this will be an even bigger problem.”

The protest rally lasted 30 to 45 minutes, he said.

A crowd gathers at a rally against the Irish Sea customs border in Markethill on May 5, 2021.

Asked whether there was likely to be violence on the streets this summer, he added: “I hope not. Our leaders need to step up to the plate.”

And asked what role paramilitaries are playing in such protests he said: “Paramilitaries are watching things very, very carefully and trying to keep their guys at bay - I am told it is not easy.

“We don’t want to see young lads losing their jobs because of prosecutions as has happened before.”

There could be other towns holding similar protests in the near future, he added, in particular, he believes a large rally may be organised for Portadown.

Placards citing Thomas Paine gathers at a rally against the Irish Sea customs border in Markethill on May 5, 2021.

Parades are still not lawful under Covid regulations and police have advised several parades in Markethill in recent weeks that they should disband and are liable to prosecution.

Band sources have in turn complained about what they felt was disproportionately heavy police presence during such parades - which have not been large in numbers.

However last night the police presence was minimal, with at most only one police car seen in the town.

Regarding the unlawful parade, Mr Berry said: “The sad reality is that this is what men and women feel they need to do to have their voice heard at this time.”

An unnotified parade in Markethill on May 5, 2021.

Further Irish Sea border protests are expected tonight in Carrickfergus, in Antrim tomorrow and in north Down over the weekend.

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