Police issue warnings as more than 3,000 attend anti NI Protocol demonstration

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey condemned the event, which he said was attended by masked men, as sinister.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland patrol car
A Police Service of Northern Ireland patrol car

A number of warnings have been issued by police at a gathering of thousands of people in west Belfast.

Loyalists gathered in Woodvale on Thursday evening to stage a demonstration in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A parade then took place along the Shankill Road.

Footage on social media showed the burning of a united Ireland banner which was displayed on the nationalist side of the peace wall earlier this year.

Police have estimated that more than 3,000 people took part, in excess of the number allowed to gather in public currently under the coronavirus regulations.

Chief Inspector Darren Fox said police were in attendance at the gathering and un-notified procession between 7-8pm.

He said a number of warnings were issued and footage gathered will be examined for suspected breaches of the public health rules.

“Organisers of parades/processions are required to give formal notification of their intentions which was regrettably not provided or forthcoming,” he said.

“The numbers were also in excess of that permitted under the Public Health Regulations.

“An evidence-gathering operation was in place. Police issued a number of warnings and we will now review all the footage gathered and consider any suspected breaches of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 and offences in respect of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations NI 2021.”

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey criticised the gathering, which he said included masked men.

“The appearance of numerous masked men leading and taking part in an illegal loyalist parade in the Shankill area of west Belfast is sinister and disturbing,” he said.

“We have witnessed the recent violence on the streets where property was destroyed, police officers injured and people left terrified in their homes. Those scenes cannot be repeated.

“The PSNI now need to address this illegal parade and the actions associated with it.

“Those within positions of leadership in political unionism also need to come out and condemn the scenes witnessed tonight, including masked men standing outside a DUP constituency office, and others holdings sinister banners targeting US President Joe Biden.

“Hooded men on our streets or calls to provoke instability have no place in our society and those in positions of leadership need to make that clear.”

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