Doug Beattie subjected to verbal abuse at controversial parade
ULSTER Unionist leader Doug Beattie was the target of homophobic abuse as he observed Saturday’s illegal anti-protocol protest in Portadown.
The Upper Bann MLA said he did not take part in the parade or associated demonstration, which saw men in balaclavas march through the Co Armagh town.
Around 300 people took part in the parade with a further 500 joining the demonstration.
Mr Beattie told The Irish News that he was harassed by anti-abortion protesters and called homophobic names by some of those present at the demonstration.
The organisers, a group called the Unionist and Loyalist Unified Coalition, say the event was to demonstrate against the protocol and what they claim is "two-tier policing".
It was addressed by a number of loyalist activists, including Moore Holmes.
PSNI officers held a sign informing protesters they were taking part in an illegal protest and that they are liable to arrest. Under current Covid-19 guidelines, gatherings are limited to 500 people outside.
According to Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd it led to Portadown town centre being "basically closed down by the protest".
The Upper Ban representative called on the PSNI to investigate the alleged breaches of parade legislation at Saturday's event.
“While everyone has a right to peaceful protest there is an onus on everyone to act within the law," he said.
“The unionist strategy of marching people to the top of the hill only to abandon them has a long tradition of failure."
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said she understood how some communities could feel "disenfranchised" but described the numbers of masked men as "chilling".
“The scenes of men in balaclavas marching through Portadown, some carrying paramilitary flags and paraphernalia is chilling and was clearly meant to intimidate – we should have left this in the past," the Upper Bann MLA said.
“I understand the concerns of communities that feel disenfranchised and voiceless. We have been listening to those concerns and working hard to address the elements of the protocol which have led to feelings of isolation."
Mr Beattie, who elsewhere was reported to have addressed the crowd, insisted that he didn't walk with the parade or make any speech.
He criticised those who sought to hide their identities by covering their faces, saying "it undermines their message".
"My constituency office is Portadown and this was a major event in the town," he said.
"I didn't walk with the parade, I stood back on the periphery with a church minister watching from a distance."
Mr Beattie said he "never saw the men in balaclavas or anything like that" but saw the images afterwards.
"It's sinister, it's wrong and it's counter-productive to be walking about in balaclavas in that manner," he said.
"While people have the right to peaceful protest, things like that just undermine their message."
He urged the organisers to engage with the police and Parades Commission to ensure the parade and demonstration were legal.
Mr Beattie also said that he was surrounded and harassed by anti-abortion protesters and was called "queer lover" by those taking part in the demonstration.