Northern Ireland news

Nationalists voice support for Doug Beattie after office attack

UUP leader Doug Beattie. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

NATIONALIST politicians have voiced support for Doug Beattie following an attack on the UUP leader’s Co Armagh office just hours after he distanced himself from anti-protocol rallies.

A window in Mr Beattie’s Portadown constituency office was smashed soon after he issued a statement saying his party would no longer be involved in protests against the Irish Sea border.

He said the rallies, the most recent of which took place in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, on Friday night, were being "used to raise the temperature in Northern Ireland and adding to tensions that now see a resurgence in UVF activity". 

The loyalist terror group has been blamed for last week’s security alert in north Belfast which saw the Republic’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney forced to leave a peace event.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was among those who addressed Friday’s rally, alongside TUV leader Jim Allister, Baroness Hoey, former MEP Ben Habib and Jamie Bryson.

Last June The Irish News revealed that Mr Beattie had been called “queer lover” while observing an illegal anti-protocol parade in Portadown last June – a reference to his support for same-sex marriage.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will not be part of raising tensions or the temperature by bringing people onto the streets with an intent to harness anger,” he said.

Yesterday he conceded that his stance on the anti-protocol demonstrations was likely to lose him votes in the May 5 election.

“I won’t lie for a vote and if I lose votes I will lose votes,” he said.

John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin condemned the attack.

The damaged Portadown constituency office of UUP leader Doug Beattie. Picture by Ulster Unionist Party/PA Wire

“Those intent on whipping up tensions and dragging society back will not succeed, we will continue to move forward,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the UUP leader had taken a “principled position”.

“I know that it is not easy to tell hard truths to your supporters,” he said.

Sir Jeffrey, who also condemned the attack, said there is nothing wrong with “peaceful protest” but stressed there is a need for people to use “careful” language.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaks during an anti-protocol rally and parade in Ballymoney last Friday. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

The Ulster Unionist leader said he would not be intimidated by the attack.

“What it will not do is deter me from carrying out my democratic work or speaking out when I have genuine concerns about the direction in which people are being led,” he said.

“Attacking offices and attempting to intimidate politicians demonstrates the weakness of your argument if that is what you have to resort to.”

The Upper Bann MLA said he wanted to see the protocol replaced and that his party had been consistently opposed to the post-Brexit trade arrangements since they were first mooted in October 2019.

However, he said the UUP differed in its approach.

“I am a confident, positive unionist representing a party which will engage to bring about change – it is a political problem which will only be solved by finding a political solution,” he said.

A LucidTalk-Belfast Telegraph opinion poll published yesterday suggested unionist respondents ranked the future of the union and the protocol as more important than the cost of living crisis.

Mr Beattie said the rallies have become not just protests against the protocol, but also “anti Belfast Agreement rallies”.

He also said there is “absolutely not” a political element to his decision coming ahead of the assembly elections.

“I won’t lie for a vote, and if I lose votes I will lose votes,” Mr Beattie said.

“People who know Upper Bann will understand that in many cases I will lose votes because of the decision I have made, but it’s the right decision.”

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