Northern Ireland

Former Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting convicted of participating in an unlawful parade to oppose NI Protocol

Jolene Bunting. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Jolene Bunting. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Former Belfast Councillor Jolene Bunting has been convicted of participating in an unlawful parade to oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The 31-year-old activist was given a conditional discharge for taking part in the unnotified public procession.

Ms Bunting faced prosecution over an anti-protocol event staged in the Tullycarnet area of east Belfast on June 23, 2021.

The former independent unionist councillor, from Highcliff Gardens in the city, insisted she was unaware it breached notification requirements within the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998.

Her 33-year-old co-defendant, Wayne Cummings, with the same address, was also convicted of the same offence.

Footage of the parade played at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday appeared to show Ms Bunting walking near the front of a small group of people and holding a placard with the words ‘British citizens demand Brexit for all’.

Members of a flute band and others carrying Union flags followed behind, many with their faces obscured by scarves or masks.

Police at the scene issued a number of audio warnings that the event had not received the required authorisation.

Giving evidence, Ms Bunting described attending the event with her partner and children after becoming aware of it on social media.

“I was at the front of the parade for most of it, I had my own placard,” she said.

“It was an anti-Protocol rally after Brexit and Northern Ireland (not getting) the same as the rest of the UK.

“Stormont had been brought down because of it and I felt really strongly about it.”

Ms Bunting confirmed she had no involvement in organising the parade.

In cross-examination she disputed prosecution assertions that she ignored the repeated warnings.

“I didn’t hear them; I had my two kids with me and I was trying to entertain them,” she insisted.

Mr Cummings told the court he had attended rallies to record and document them for historical purposes.

At one stage during the hearing, Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes referred to charges being brought against Ms Bunting as “the elephant in the room”.

He asked: “Why is she the subject of police interest in all this?”

Based on the law and available evidence, however, he convicted both defendants.

Stressing the charge was at the lowest end of the scale, Mr Holmes told them: “I’m going to give you both a conditional discharge for 12 months.”