Masked men lead a Northern Ireland anti-Protocol protest in the town of Co Armagh
A number of masked men took part in a loyalist protest in Portadown on Saturday as hundreds marched through the town center to show their disgust at the Northern Ireland protocol.
The parade commission was not notified of the event, while current Covid-19 restrictions limit outdoor gatherings to 500 spectators and 500 participants.
Saturday’s protest was the last loyalist protest against protocol following similar rallies in Carrickfergus and Larne.
One of the speakers said those present should “prepare in the short term to be called upon to resist the protocol”.
Police held a banner warning those participating in the Portadown protest that they could be prosecuted as it was an uninformed parade.
This came after the PSNI repeatedly called on organizers to engage with them in the interest of public safety.
Speaking after the event, Chief Inspector Barney O’Connor said 300 people took part in the procession, while another 500 attended. The PSNI also carried out an evidence-gathering operation.
“The crowd was mostly families and there was no problem,” he explained.
“To ensure road safety for those present and other members of the public in the area, the police diverted traffic around the demonstration for a short time. Trade has been facilitated for local businesses and businesses.
“Parade / procession organizers are required to formally notify their intentions. A number of verbal and visual warnings were therefore given by the police to the participants this afternoon.
“An evidence-gathering operation was in place and we will now review all images collected and investigate any alleged violations of the Public Procession Act 1998 (NI).”
A new round of cargo checks at the ports of Belfast and Larne under the terms of the protocol has angered trade unionists and loyalists who believe Northern Ireland is separate from the rest of the UK.
The new UUP leader, Doug Beattie, attended the protest and reiterated his party’s call for the implementation of alternatives to protocol.
“What we have done is come up with alternatives to the protocol,” he said. “These include the regime of trusted traders which consists of facilitating as much as possible and checking only risky goods, compensating goods that might accidentally find their way into the EU single market, creating a cross-border body to monitor this trade, etc.
“It’s perfectly possible to do that, to do point-of-origin and point-of-delivery checks with time stamps as you cross the border in the normal way. It’s not rocket science, I just don’t understand why people ignored it.
Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart was also present and called for the removal of the protocol, although she did not endorse a specific alternative solution.
“We have to look at ways of not obstructing our internal borders, this is the biggest problem we have, the border with Britain is causing economic and constitutional problems and must go,” she said.
“There has to be a reuniting of all parties and a real overhaul and restoration of the UK as a single union.”
Sinn Fein MP John O’Dowd called on the PSNI to investigate alleged violations of parade laws during Saturday’s event in Portadown.
The Upper Bann MP said: “Several hundred protesters gathered in downtown Portadown today.
“An uninformed marching band parade also took place, with the city center virtually closed due to the protest.
“While everyone has the right to demonstrate peacefully, it is everyone’s responsibility to act within the law.”
Meanwhile, The Times reported on Saturday that EU leaders were making plans to impose trade sanctions on the UK, accusing Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “taking them for fools” over the Northern Ireland protocol.
The newspaper claimed that EU diplomats believed Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, had “totally failed to engage” with the committee on its implementation. The first meeting of the UK / EU Partnership Council next week will discuss issues relating to the protocol.
An EU diplomatic source was cited as accusing the UK of trying to dismantle the deal and warned that Brussels was ready to take unilateral action.
“You are starting to hear Member States say that now is the time to show Britain that we are serious,” the source said. “Johnson has signed the protocol and he must implement it. If we do not get that clear indication in the coming weeks, we are considering imposing retaliatory trade tariffs.
“The feeling is when Johnson takes us for fools.”
The Times also said the EU is ready to offer “flexible” solutions to some of the protocol problems, such as a “trusted trader program” to reduce physical checks at the Irish Sea border.
A UK government source denied that it had been adamant and said Lord Frost had tabled more than a dozen documents offering solutions to the problems, but without a written response from the EU.
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