Northern Ireland news

Former Sinn Fein mayor hits out at Jamie Bryson over comments following angry exchange outside Ulster Hall

Jamie Bryson makes his way to the Ulster Hall on Friday. Picture by Matt Bohill.
Paul Ainsworth

A FORMER Sinn Féin mayor has hit back at Jamie Bryson after the loyalist accused him of 'drunken behaviour' following an angry exchange between the pair outside the Ulster Hall on Friday night.

Armagh councillor Garath Keating admits he approached Mr Bryson outside the Belfast city centre venue where a loyalist rally to oppose Boris Johnson's Brexit deal was taking place.

Images captured at the scene show the pair in close quarters but the heated exchange was not apparent.

Following the event Mr Bryson took to social media where he alleged Mr Keating's behaviour was influenced by alcohol.

"He (Mr Keating) evidently believed unionism was still in a mood to politely appease pontificating republicans; he was sobered up with the reality as he was swiftly pushed out of the way."

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Speaking to the Irish News yesterday however Mr Keating, who was mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council in 2016, rejected the comments and urged Mr Bryson to be 'mindful of his language'.

Armagh Sinn Féin councillor Garath Keating admits he approached Jamie Bryson

The former mayor, known to friends by the nickname 'Patch', admitted he had been "out for a pint" after work and was on his way to meet his wife when he passed the Ulster Hall.

"I saw Jamie Bryson and I spoke with him briefly, telling him I thought he should be reflecting on what he was doing in regards the event," he said.

"He snarled at me before I went on my way. At the time I don't think he had any idea who I was, but he wasn't too happy with me.

Former lord mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon, Garath Keating, pictured dancing with local children to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Rushmere Shopping Centre. Picture by Philip Magowan.

"Everyone has a right to free assembly but I wanted to encourage people who have influence in our communities to help calm tensions, especially as we are in a difficult enough period with the upcoming election."

He added: "As far as what he has called me, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over. But it's incumbent on anyone to be mindful of the language they use."

Up to 1,000 people attended the Rally For The Union where they heard DUP Westminster candidate Nigel Dodds and TUV leader Jim Allister slam the Prime Minister's withdrawal deal as the "betrayal act" which would lead to an "economic united Ireland".

Bands take to the stage at the Ulster Hall rally.

Mr Bryson told the Irish News yesterday that Mr Keating had blocked his path outside the venue and accused him of "stirring up sectarian tensions".

"He impeded my path and did so in front of cameras. I had no interest in his stunt, however. The reality is that the days of unionists and loyalists being impeded by pontificating republicans, either politically or physically, are over."

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