Northern Ireland

Alliance hits out at 'nods and winks' to 1914 UVF gunrunning at anti-protocol rally

Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson, speaking during an anti-protocol rally on Bloomfield Road, east Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association
Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson, speaking during an anti-protocol rally on Bloomfield Road, east Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson, speaking during an anti-protocol rally on Bloomfield Road, east Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

AN Alliance MP has hit out at "nods and winks" to past gunrunning, after a senior Orangeman invoked the 1914 UVF at an anti-protocol rally.

Stephen Farry criticised the reference by Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson.

Rev Gibson warned at a rally in east Belfast that "apathy" was not an option for unionists in the fight against the protocol - a post-Brexit customs measure which has effectively created a border in the Irish Sea.

"If left in place the protocol makes you and I subject to the laws and regulations of a foreign power and in time their influence will spread like a cancer," he told protesters at Bloomfield Roundabout on Friday.

"Apathy was not an option when in 1912 people signed the (Ulster) Covenant.

"Apathy was not an option when guns were landed at Larne and Donaghadee.

"Apathy was not an option in 1921 when Northern Ireland was founded.

"Apathy was not an option during the dark days of the Troubles."

The Larne gunrunning, organised in April 1914, saw almost 25,000 rifles and between three and five million rounds of ammunition from the German Empire - just months before the beginning of the First World War. The operation aimed to equip the UVF.

Mr Farry, the MP for North Down, criticised Rev Gibson's gunrunning reference.

"There is no place for guns and gunrunning in NI politics and society," he said.

"Nods and winks to past examples are not acceptable.

"The election candidates and parties sharing platforms should make clear their sole commitment to peaceful and democratic means."

On Saturday, Unionists were urged to "vote in strength" in the elections to send a message of opposition to the protocol.

TUV leader Jim Allister made the call with less than two weeks until polling day.

Speaking at the same anti-protocol rally in Newbuildings, Co Derry, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson asked unionists to use their transfers to support other pro-union candidates to maximise the unionist vote.

"Make no mistake, Sinn Féin winning this election will send a message to Dublin and Brussels, that it's business as usual with the protocol. Unionists must use their transfers to support other pro-union candidates," he said.

Organised by the North West United Unionists, Sir Jeffrey, Mr Allister, PUP councillor Russell Watton and loyalist activist Jamie Bryson all addressed the gathering.

Mr Allister urged unionists to "come out in strength" on polling day.

"There has been a transfer of sovereignty with laws made not in London or Belfast but in Brussels," he said.

"Laws we do not make and cannot change. Particularly on the mouth of an election that is something which should cause all democrats to pause and think.

"Unionists need to come out in strength on polling day and vote in strength and for strength in opposing the protocol."

The event was the third anti-protocol rally in as many days, following demonstrations in Belfast on Friday and Castlederg, Co Tyrone on Thursday.