Northern Ireland news

UUP's Doug Beattie was asked at Brexit meeting to 'use military experience to drill them'

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Brendan Hughes

A UUP MLA was asked during a unionist protest meeting against Boris Johnson's Brexit deal to use his military experience in the British Army to "drill them".

The plea to Doug Beattie, a former Army captain, reportedly drew some cheers from the packed crowd at an Orange Hall in Portadown.

Mr Beattie said he rejected the suggestion which came from a lone individual, and said there is "no place in our society for violence".

Hundreds attended the meeting on Wednesday night to voice concerns over the British prime minister's proposed EU withdrawal agreement.

Angered unionists have branded it the "Betrayal Act", fearing it will create a hard border with Britain and an "economic United Ireland".

It has led to concerns that loyalist paramilitaries could become involved in orchestrating campaigns of civil disobedience in protest.

The Portadown event was the latest in series of meetings organised across the north.

Read More: Fear of violence in Northern Ireland led to Theresa May deciding against a no-deal

Mr Beattie spoke to the crowd on a panel alongside DUP MLA Carla Lockhart, independent unionist councillor Paul Berry and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

The Ulster Unionist yesterday said that one audience member had said "that peaceful demonstration didn't work".

"I was asked from the floor to use my military experience to drill them," the Upper Bann MLA added.

Mr Beattie said he was "certainly not going to support" the suggestion.

Asked if the idea received support in the room, he said: "People cheered at various different things. That was mentioned in the room but it was quite clear that I was there as a politician and not some form of military commander – and who only supports peaceful means.

"There is no place in our society for violence."

Mr Berry described the pressures on unionism, and warned that "we don't want to live in a vacuum where paramilitaries take over here".

"There is a deep sense of betrayal here," he added.

Mr Bryson said the room was "packed to capacity" and there was a sense of "palpable anger".

"The message is that people aren't tolerating an economic united Ireland – we're not having this," he added.

Ms Lockhart was also asked for her thoughts on the meeting. She said she would discuss issuing a comment through the DUP press office, but none was issued last night.

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