PSNI to take action over pub's Pride street closure plans
POLICE have said they will seek to prosecute if a Belfast gay bar goes ahead with plans to close a main road for a Pride street party.
Maverick bar plans to seal off Donegall Street for nine hours tomorrow for a 'block party' to coincide with the Belfast Pride Festival.
It will involve a "crowd management company" closing the road between North Queen Street and Royal Avenue to general traffic.
But last night in a strongly worded statement to The Irish News, the PSNI said they would take action against any such move.
Chief inspector Robert Murdie said: "The event organiser is best placed to determine whether or not their event can go ahead, but for absolute clarity, any attempt to close or block a public road, will be met with an appropriate and proportionate police response.
"If anyone chooses to break the law, police will ensure that everything possible is done to bring those responsible before the courts and face the consequences of their actions."
It comes after police earlier this week rejected claims that they supported the street party plans.
A letter from organisers to nearby traders said: "This event is supported by Belfast City Council, the Department for Social Development, PSNI and a range of local businesses.
"Between the hours of 2pm-11pm traffic movement on Donegall Street will be restricted and diversions will be in place.
"All residents and business operators will still have full access with 'through traffic' being diverted."
However, Belfast City Council said it was not funding the event and road closures were a matter for the PSNI.
The Department for Communities, which has replaced the Department for Social Development, also said it was not involved.
And a spokesman for Belfast Pride Festival said the event is not organised by the official festival.
It is understood the letter sent to businesses was based on a template used for a Pride event some years earlier.
The section of Donegall Street affected includes St Patrick's Church and the Redeemer Central church, as well as various shops and a funeral directors.
Some along the street told The Irish News they feared expressing concerns publicly about the 'block party' would be misconstrued as homophobic.
A spokesman for the Down and Connor diocese would only say that tomorrow's Masses at 1pm and 7pm will go ahead as usual.
Maverick and Boombox manager Mark Hassan said on Monday that they planned to meet with police "for final sign-off" on the plans.
He said diversions were for "public safety" and a "crowd management company" would be diverting traffic, insisting that he had secured permission from "everyone".
However, Mr Murdie said police "identified and discussed a range of legislative and event planning requirements" when they first met organisers last month.
"We also explained that while there is no specific legislation regarding road closures in Northern Ireland, as Donegall Street is a main arterial route with a number of business and residential properties police would not support its closure," he said.
"It is disappointing that instead of consulting and discussing the event plans with their residential and business neighbours or the other statutory agencies, the event organiser has simply issued a letter, indicating that their privately organised event has support from police, when this is not the case.
"I have asked that they clarify this with everyone they have corresponded with.
"We are also disappointed that despite recent communications, we are still awaiting the event organiser to arrange another meeting with us to discuss their plans."
The 'block party' is expected to be similar to an annual street party held during Pride on Union Street by the Kremlin venue.
Mr Murdie said police are supporting the main Pride event, but that preparations begin "many months ahead of these events to ensure all event planning and safety issues are addressed".
"For example following consultation with event organisers some months in advance of their planned event, police have facilitated the closure of Union Street, which is a small, one-way street which does not form an arterial route into the city (and does) not block access to any residential or business premises," he said.
A Translink spokeswoman said: "We will work with event organisers to facilitate Pride events in Belfast city centre this Saturday, in conjunction with the PSNI. This would be in line with normal event planning requirements."
The 26th Belfast Pride Festival runs until Sunday, with Pride Day on Saturday and the annual parade setting off at 1pm.