Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin united Ireland banner torched at rally 'was taken by vigilant loyalists', anti-Protocol protesters claim

A united Ireland banner is torched by loyalists at an anti- Protocol rally on the Shankill Road in Belfast

LOYALISTS last night torched a Sinn Féin Irish unity banner taken from Divis Flats as more than a thousand people took part in an anti-Northern Ireland Protocol parade in west Belfast.

Protesters, including men wearing balaclavas, marched from Woodvale Park along the Shankill Road yesterday evening.

Police filmed the illegal parade as marchers waved Union flags and held a banner calling for the Protocol, which has effectively created a customs border in the Irish Sea, to be scrapped.

The huge Sinn Féin banner, which had been flown from Divis Flats around the centenary of Northern Ireland last month, was set alight by a wheelchair-bound former loyalist prisoner.

The banner read: 'A united Ireland is for everyone. Let’s talk about it.'

Protesters were told that the banner had been removed by "vigilant loyalists".

However, questions will now be asked as to how the banner got into protesters' hands.

After complaints were made about the Sinn Féin banner last month, the DUP called on the Housing Executive to investigate how it was put up on Divis tower block.

The PSNI later said it was removed by a “third party” following discussions.

As the banner was torched last night, a spokesman from the Greater Shankill Coalition told protesters that the "Northern Ireland Protocol represents the single greatest threat to Northern Ireland's sovereignty and status within the United Kingdom".

He added: "Across the towns and villages of Ulster and beyond, people are mobilising in a way unseen in a generation to resist this Protocol and to provide a united voice from within the unionist and loyalist community.

"They have had enough."

Last night's rally came after around 800 loyalists took part in an illegal protest march in Portadown, Co Armagh, on Saturday.

Several marches joined together before joining a protest in the centre of the town.

Police said the processions were "un-notified" and that officers issued warnings to those taking part.

It is understood last night's parade and the Portadown march are being investigated for breaches of Covid and parading regulations.

Loyalists have held anti-Protocol protests, some of them violent, since Easter.

More rallies are planned.

A further large rally will be held in Newtownards on Friday of next week.

Anti-Protocol protesters will parade from four estates in the town and congregate in Newtownards Square at 8pm.

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