Northern Ireland

Organisers of Belfast International Women’s Day rally claim two speakers forced to withdraw over safety concerns

Pro-Israel protestor detained by police during Saturday’s march in Belfast

Split image showing a large number of people taking part in an International Women’s Day rally in Belfast, and (right), policing detaining a man in a baseball cap.
Police detain a man on Royal Avenue (right) during Saturday's International Women’s Day rally, organised by Reclaim the Agenda. PICTURES: Mal McCann

The organisers of an International Women’s Day rally in Belfast on Saturday have said two speakers were forced to withdraw from the event over concerns for their safety.

Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon.

But the organisers said a Palestinian refugee and a young woman from the LBTQ+ community withdrew from the event, citing online abuse and “the increasingly hostile environment experienced by refugees and asylum seekers”.

It comes as police were forced to detain a man who had been brandishing an Israeli flag and shouting at marchers as they walked along Royal Avenue on Saturday afternoon.

International Women’s Day Rally
Participants of Saturday's International Women’s Day rally make their way from Writers' Square to Belfast City Hall. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

It’s understood the man had been asked to remove the flag before he was handcuffed.

Made up of various women’s groups, trade unions, LGBT+ and youth organisations, Saturday’s rally also featured a strong pro-Palestinian element led by ‘Mothers Against Genocide’.

The speakers who addressed the crowd gathered outside Belfast City Hall included Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire.

International Women’s Day Rally
Mothers Against Genocide took part in Saturday's International Women’s Day rally in Belfast. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

But Reclaim the Agenda said two other speakers were forced to withdraw from the podium.

The group said an LGBT+ woman withdrew after “witnessing the vitriolic online abuse directed at another speaker from that community”.

A second speaker, described as a Palestinian refugee and member of the Anaka Women’s Collective, also pulled out over her concerns.

Police remove a israeli flag from a man and place him in handcuffs at the International Women’s Day Rally as it makes its way from Writers Square to Belfast City Hall. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Israeli flag Police remove an Israeli flag from a man and place him in handcuffs during Saturday's International Women’s Day rally. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

In a statement, the organisers said: “We will not allow our movement to be divided. We will not allow women to be silenced. We will also resist any attempts to restrict our right to protest.

“We also condemn the actions of often faceless people online posting hate speech who are appropriating feminism and aligning themselves with right wing and patriarchal movements.

“We are unequivocal that our intersectional feminism not only includes but needs trans women.”

International Women’s Day Rally
International Women’s Day Rally Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

The Anaka Women’s Collective also released a statement confirming the decision to withdraw one of its members from the speakers’ platform was done with “great sadness and anger because of the oppressive immigration system”.

The group said: “The rhetoric from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, unchallenged by Keir Starmer and reinforced by media attitudes, has created a hostile environment for our members.

“Members of our collective are no longer safe to speak here today because of the threats from our government.”

International Women’s Day Rally
Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

A PSNI spokesperson said: “Police were in attendance at a notified parade in Belfast City Centre on Saturday, March 9 as part of a public safety operation.

“Following an altercation between members of the public, officers spoke to a man aged in his 50s, for a number of potential public order related offences.

“Enquiries are continuing. Police have also become aware of commentary regarding online abuse, and we would encourage anyone who has been subjected to such incidents to make contact with Police on 101.”

International Women’s Day Rally
Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

Despite the withdrawals, Reclaim the Agenda said Saturday’s rally, which marched behind the slogan ‘peace and courage’, was one of its largest in recent years.

Speakers included Afghan woman Alina Gawhsry (20), who recounted her efforts to flee the Taliban last year.

Using her address to call for an immediate end to all global conflicts, Belfast peace campaigner Mairead Maguire told the rally: “We reject militarism, discrimination, hunger and poverty.

International Women’s Day Rally
International Women’s Day Rally Mairead Maguire addresses the International Women’s Day Rally at Belfast City Hall. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)

“These are all forms of violence and we reject politicians who demean us by insisting we prepare for war.

“We are being led by militarists, gun sellers and warmongers who say we must hate each other.”

International Women’s Day Rally
Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)
International Women’s Day Rally
Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)
International Women’s Day Rally
Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)
International Women’s Day Rally
Around 1,000 people took part in Reclaim the Agenda’s rally on Saturday afternoon to mark International Women’s Day. PICTURE: MAL McCANN (Mal McCann)