Northern Ireland

Loyalist protests against Northern Ireland Protocol to restart

Loyalist protest and blocked Lanark Way in west Belfast
Loyalist protest and blocked Lanark Way in west Belfast Loyalist protest and blocked Lanark Way in west Belfast

UNANNOUNCED loyalist protests are expected to restart today, following a week-long cessation following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

A group calling itself the Ards & North Down Loyalist Collective indicated that unnotified band parades will take place in Bangor and Newtownards at 7pm tonight.

The message was carried on various loyalist Facebook sites, including one linked North Down Defenders flute band which has been described by UDA leader Dee Stitt as "our homeland security".

It insisted "these parades are *** peaceful protests*** and designed to provide a legitimate means of registering the concerns of our community".

However, it is understood that a number of unpublicised gatherings - including band parades - will take place across the north with the spectre of major road blocks returning for the first time since the disruptive `flags protests' of 2012/13.

Protests over anger at the Irish Sea border and a decision not to prosecute Sinn Féin members who attended Bobby Storey's funeral during coronavirus restrictions, began on Good Friday.

They were originally targeted at notorious sectarian flashpoints in Belfast and descended into days of serious rioting.

Read More: Strong deterrent message needs to be sent to loyalists planning protest parades - Dolores Kelly

Eighty-eight PSNI officers were injured and children as young as 13 among those arrested in the disturbances which also flared in Newtownabbey on the outskirts of north Belfast.

Tonight's protests will be held at Bangor's Bloomfield, Kilcooley and Whitehall estates and West Winds Estate in Newtownards.

Organisers said they are "against two tier policing and the attempts to impose an economic United Ireland via the NI Protocol" and said "all bandsmen will be welcome in their local community to participate".

They have also asked "all communities to come out and show your support (and) peacefully protest to defend the union by gathering in your local estate at 7pm".

Unnotified parades have already taken place in several towns including Ballymena in Co Antrim and Markethill and Portadown in Co Armagh, with masked men were pictured taking part.

The Parades Commission says while it "regulates parades and related protests... unnotified parades and related protests are a matter for the PSNI".

Loyalist paramilitaries have indicated they are operating a `disengagement policy' and will not intervene to help police restore order if protests again descend into violence.

During serious rioting on Belfast's Shankill Road and Sandy Row senior UVF and UDA figures were seen looking on as youths attacked officers with petrol bombs and masonry.

There has been a drive to coordinate the loyalist response, with organisers of tonight's Co Down demonstrations stressing it is the "legitimate protest movement with support of genuine loyalists in the local area".

It follows calls by an anonymous group for protests which failed to materialise and other demonstrations organised via social media at notorious sectarian flashpoints.

The Ards & North Down Loyalist Collective branded this "malicious agitation by faceless individuals is designed to undermine the genuine concerns of loyalists".