Council has 'not given permission' for far-right group Britain First to meet at Ards Leisure Centre
A COUNCIL has said it has "not given permission" for the far-right group Britain First to congregate at one of its leisure centres and is "working with the PSNI to limit the impact".
Britain First is to gather for its first ever meeting in the north on Saturday at 3pm outside the entrance of the council-owned Ards Leisure Centre.
In a post on social media, Britain First leader Paul Golding urged followers to "join us for speeches and a social", adding that it will be "the first official Britain First meeting in Northern Ireland".
In 2015, Mr Golding was pictured in Newtownards alongside other party activists in a Facebook post which claimed that he was "outside the new big mosque in the town".
He was actually photographed outside Ards Arts Centre.
Muslims in the town, where there is no mosque, instead worship in the Bangladesh Islamic Community Centre in Greenwell Street.
Britain First has been supported by independent Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting, who has promoted Saturday's meeting on social media.
Alliance Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said that "elected representatives from other areas bussing in professional protesters is not supported by the vast majority of residents".
"Newtownards is an open and welcoming town, with a diverse population and rapidly developing business community," she said.
"Given similar groups have targeted the local Islamic Centre in the past, I have made contact with the PSNI and Parades Commission to inform them of this event.
"Questions also need to be asked as to why the local council is allowing these speeches to take place on their property," added Ms Armstrong.
Ards and North Down Borough Council said it only became aware of the meeting on Tuesday.
"The council does not accept bookings from political parties at any of its leisure facilities and we have not given permission for this organisation to congregate on council property," said a spokeswoman for the council.
"We have sought advice from the PSNI. We are working with PSNI to limit the impact of this meeting on the local community."
Mr Golding, and the party's deputy leader Jayda Fransen, are to stand trial in Belfast in September.
Their case in Belfast had to be put back after they were imprisoned in England in March for religiously aggravated harassment.
The pair, along with two other defendants, are being prosecuted over speeches delivered during a "Northern Ireland Against Terrorism" rally outside Belfast City Hall in August last year.
Ms Fransen filmed a video from the Lord Mayor's chair at City Hall in January - without prior permission from council - in a visit arranged by Ms Bunting.