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Protestant Coalition's refugee opposition rally blasted 'sick'

SDLP Justice spokesman, Alban Maginness called for the "sick" rally to be called off as the first Syrian refugees arrive in the north
 
Marie Louise McConville

THERE are calls for a "sick" anti-refugee demonstration through Belfast next weekend to be called off amid fears it could spark violence scenes on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

The PSNI were last night also called upon to "scrutinise" comments made by organisers of the event, The Protestant Coalition who have referred to refugees as "terrorists".

Concerns about the rally, due to take place on Saturday at city hall, have been raised just days after it was revealed that that the first group of Syrian refugees will arrive in Northern Ireland.

Ahead of their arrival, Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said there was a "political responsibility" to extend a hand of friendship to the refugees.

However, the Protestant Coalition, which grew out of the loyalist flag protests, said its demonstration had been organised "against the influx of refugees/terrorists coming to the shores of Northern Ireland/Ireland".

A similar rally organised by the group was cancelled in September after it emerged `Belfast Baby Day' was due to take place at city hall around the same time on the same day.

Speaking last night, SDLP Justice spokesman, Alban Maginness called for the "sick" rally to be called off.

"There is no need for it and it will only cause disruption and possible public disorder in the city centre on a crucial Christmas shopping day," he said.

"The refugees that are coming to Northern Ireland are refugees who have been invited here by government. These are people that deserve shelter and support. It's frightening that people would be so hostile to people who are in need".

Mr Maginness said the comments made by the Protestant Coalition also needed to be investigated.

"The comments that have been made are provocative," he said.

"In any event, they do border on hate crime and they should be looked at very carefully and scrutinised by the police. There is no place for such comments in our society and they can only damage our own reputation as an hospitable people".

Mr Maginness said while those behind the event had a "legitimate right to express their twisted political point of view", there was "no basis" for the demonstration.

Amid concerns raised as to why the Parades Commission had allowed the rally to go ahead in the first place, Mr Maginness said the body had limited power.

"The Parades Commission have no authority to ban a rally," he said.

"They can only effectively lay down the perimeters of the rally but I'm sure the Parades Commission have looked at this very carefully."

The PSNI last night said: "Police are aware of the planned protest and of the content of the Facebook post. To date no complaint has been received however the content will be considered appropriately".

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