Northern Ireland news

Flag protesters hit out at Jamie Bryson and Ruth Patterson

Jamie Bryson has received criticism from flag protesters after calling on loyalists to cancel a planned vigil on St Patrick's Day. Picture by Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

TWO of the most prominent supporters of the original Union flag protests have been criticised by organisers of a 12-hour 'vigil' scheduled for Belfast on St Patrick's Day.

The Loyal Peoples Protest group has said it has no intention of calling off the demonstration, scheduled to start at 1pm outside the City Hall, a day when thousands will converge on the city centre for St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Ruth Patterson, the former DUP councillor who is contesting the Assembly election as an independent, and her campaign manager Jamie Bryson, a Co Down loyalist, have both spoken of their opposition to the planned protest.

The Loyal Peoples Protest posted a photo of Mr Bryson alongside the caption "My only crime was disloyalty" and urged him to "get back in your loft".

In a further post mimicking the 'Be Like Bill' social media trend, the group said: "This is Bill. Bill is a flag protester. Bill thinks Ruth and Jamie are a geg.

"Bill loves his flag. Bill will never surrender. I like Bill. Bill is loyal. Bill doesn't walk away. Be like Bill N.S (no surrender)."

Mr Bryson was convicted of taking part in unlawful demonstrations linked to the protests that brought parts of Belfast to a standstill following a council decision in December 2012 to fly the flag at City Hall only on designated days.

However, last week he said there is "no political advantage in holding a protest on St Patrick's Day".

He said: "There has to be a pathway from protest to political action, to political change - there has to be a strategy."

Ms Patterson, also a strong supporter of flag protests in the past, called on loyalists to "think again" and said she did "not think there is a strategic or political purpose in organising a protest on St Patrick's Day".

The council's annual St Patrick's Day parade is set to depart the City Hall at noon en route to a concert at Custom House Square.

If the vigil goes ahead it will be the third consecutive year that Union flag protests have taken place at City Hall on March 17, with minor skirmishes breaking out last year between rival crowds of youths.

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