Northern Ireland news

Fund set up to help anti-racism protesters pay police fines

The Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Mairead Holland

A FUND set up to support protesters fined for attending anti-racism rallies had yesterday reached almost £16,000.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) online appeal was organised by Alliance for Choice following the demonstrations on Saturday.

Just under 500 people gathered at Custom House Square in Belfast, with around the same number congregating at the Guildhall Square in Derry.

Three other events – in Omagh, Newry and Portadown - were cancelled.

The rallies had been called following the death of African-American George Floyd in the US while being arrested by police.

On Saturday, the PSNI confirmed it had issued a "significant number" of fines and Community Resolution Notices (CRNS) to people breaching Covid-19 health protection regulations.

The Black Lives Matter completed mural on the International Wall on the Falls Road Picture Mal McCann.

On its online fundraising page, Alliance for Choice said many people attending the BLM rallies were issued £60 fines, "even in cases where they were not gathered in groups of more than six and exercising their right to peaceful protest".

They said they were initially aiming to raise £5,000 and that the fund would help people to pay the fines - "particularly those who are on a low income, for whom £60 represents a substantial amount of money" - as well as those facing associated legal costs.

The post added that any extra money raised would be used to support local Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) grassroots groups in Northern Ireland, Black Lives Matter UK and NHS charities based in Northern Ireland.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd defended the police response. He said: "In other times, we would have been working with the organisers and protestors to facilitate a lawful and peaceful protest to mark the avoidable and unnecessary death of George Floyd. However, these are not ordinary times.

"The Health Protection Regulations are in place to protect us all during this pandemic and it is everyone's responsibility to adhere to them to protect our society."

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland called the police action "deeply worrying".

"I pay tribute to protest organisers in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry, who went to great lengths to ensure protests were socially distanced and safe for participants in light of the current public health crisis," he said.

Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast Picture Mal McCann.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said police were put in a very difficult position and that the protests should not have gone ahead.

Meanwhile, a mural highlighting the death of George Floyd, and supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign has been unveiled on the Falls Road in west Belfast.

It was the brainchild of Belfast tourism organisation Fáilte Feirste Thiar and community arts festival Féile an Phobail and was painted by Marty Lyons and Mickey Docherty.

Parliament Buildings was also lit up in yellow on Saturday as a sign of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Assembly Commission said the gesture was "a strong and visible symbol" of opposition to racism.

Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast Picture Mal McCann.

Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast Picture Mal McCann.

Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast Picture Mal McCann.

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