Northern Ireland news

Unionist infighting after Sammy Wilson called 'traitor' by demonstrators at anti-protocol rally

Jim Allister intervenes after demonstrators heckle Sammy Wilson in Markethill. Picture by Cate McCurry

JIM Allister has hit back at what he termed "unwarranted personal attacks" by Sammy Wilson after the DUP was booed at Friday night's anti-protocol rally in Co Armagh.

The public infighting among the unionist opponents of the post-Brexit trade arrangements came after Mr Wilson was heckled and called a "traitor" as he addressed hundreds of demonstrators in Markethill. The TUV leader intervened at one point, appealing to the crowd to hear the East Antrim MP out.

During his address, Mr Wilson compared the EU's handling of Northern Ireland in the Brexit process to Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

But his comments were often drowned out as angry crowd members accused his party of botching the Brexit process.

Despite the blizzard conditions, a large crowd attended the rally, with dozens of bands taking part.

Mr Wilson said afterwards that he was among the first to arrive at the rally and "amongst the last to leave".

"I walked the parade route before and after the speeches. People were craving unionist unity in opposition to the protocol. They welcomed our decision to remove the first minister until the Irish Sea border is removed," he said.

"Sadly the media headlines do not reflect this – they report unionist disunity."

He said the coverage served "our political opponents who want to portray unionist opposition to the protocol as dysfunctional and divided".

The DUP MP also claimed "some in loyalism seem intent on manufacturing disunity where none exists".

"They tried and failed in Dromore. They succeeded in Markethill, thus completely undermining the strong message the organisers wanted to send out," he said.

"We stand for unionists working together, standing together, speaking together against the protocol. Shows of disunity will hearten Brussels and undermine the cause we seek to advance."

However, he took issue with Mr Allister, who, according to Mr Wilson, "appealed for respect" but only after "he spent 10 minutes on the platform whipping up an anti-DUP sentiment in a blatant act of electioneering".

"Whilst Sir Jeffrey has sought to work with every hue of unionism, whether he always agrees with them or not, to get a united front and common cause against the protocol, it seems Jim is only interested in using the protocol to promote his and his party's narrow electoral interests," he said.

"Unionism is ill-served at this time by such division. Regardless of how some may try to hijack opposition to the protocol, the DUP will focus on harnessing all unionist energies to ensure the protocol is removed.

"Does Jim want a united opposition to the protocol or not? Does he see these rallies as an opportunity to present a united front or simply to attack others sharing the platform with him?"

The TUV leader issued a terse response to Mr Wilson's statement, questioning whether the DUP MP's "unwarranted personal attacks on me helps his party's cause".

"How such helps the stance against the protocol is difficult to discern," he said.

“TUV is not responsible for the public perception of DUP's protocol stance, especially after foolish talk about ‘the best of both worlds'. The public has no problem understanding TUV's unwavering stand against the union-dismantling protocol."

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie tweeted that the DUP would "punch even further right to deal with the threat from TUV".

He said his party was "not threatened by either".

"Our aim is to grow unionism through engagement, inclusivity and positivity in order to make Northern Ireland work for all its people," he said.

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