Politicians condemn anti-refugee parade and rally
The north’s two most senior politicians have condemned a planned anti-refugee parade in Belfast next month.
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hit out at the protest rally and parade organised by the Protestant Coalition for Saturday, December 5.
The protests will take place just day before a group of Syrian refugees are welcomed to the north to begin new lives.
The Irish News revealed yesterday that Protestant church leaders have also condemned the planned protests.
Mr Robinson said the refugees will be offered support.
"I deplore the fact that there are those in Belfast who are planning to have an anti-refugee rally," he said.
"That is not the people of Northern Ireland, that is not the way we behave. Our society will be welcoming and supportive."
Mr McGuinness said people have a responsibility to offer "our compassion and our sympathy" to refugees.
"I want to join with Peter in utterly condemning those racists who have organised a protest rally in Belfast against the arrival of these poor people," he said.
"We will not stand for it and I believe the overwhelming majority of the people we represent will not stand for this type of racism.
"We will stand together and we will give these people the warm welcome they deserve."
Chairman of the Community Relations Council Peter Osborne said refugees should be given every support.
"In helping support our own society coming out of conflict we need to make sure that building relationships remain at the heart of reconciliation," he said.
"Intimidating and threatening messages to those fleeing conflict in other places and seeking help is not the image that we should be sending out."
The Protestant Coalition, which grew out of the loyalist flag protests, has defended its decision to hold the rally and parade.
In a statement it said: "We ask all those who have come forward to condemn us, where is your condemnation of those who have beheaded, burnt alive, raped, abused ... yet they raise their heads above the water line when we have an opinion?"
And it added: "Whilst we fully understand where these people and their opposition comes from they must also understand the fears of the people not only in our own country but across the entire world. How can we forget the massacre of 130 people just two weeks ago in Paris?"
Their comments come after Presbyterian church moderator Dr Ian McNie said that when those fleeing conflict "come among us they need to be welcomed with generosity."
Rev Adrian Dorrian, chair of the Church of Ireland’s Church and Society Commission, said the planned parade and rally is "not helpful" adding "nor does it resonate with the Christian understanding that each member of the human race is made in the image and likeness of God."
Justin Kouame from the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) said refugees pose no threat and that the rally should be called off.
"They are using the opportunity to blame the refugees for what happened and put forward their own agenda," he said.
"There are refugees here for many years and nothing happened."