‘They can arrest me if they want to’

Independent Councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council, Gary Donnelly
Independent Councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council, Gary Donnelly

An Independent Councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council has said he has no intention of presenting himself to Strand Road PSNI station on a voluntary basis despite the threat of arrest.

Councillor Gary Donnelly received a letter from police last week saying that on October 17, 2015 he took part in a parade of which neither police nor the Parades Commission had received any notification.

The incident referred to was a protest held in the grounds of St Columb’s Park House last year whilst the PSNI held a recruitment drive.

The letter from the PSNI to Mr Donnelly said: “In order to conduct a prompt and effective investigation of the offence, Police invite you to call into Strand Road Police Station or contact Police on 101, to arrange an interview, as a voluntary attendee, at a date and time which is convenient. Failure to make contact with Police to arrange a suitable date within seven days of receipt of this letter, may result in you being arrested for the offence listed above.”

At around 3.30pm on October 17 last year around 60 protestors carrying banners and flags made their way from Pilot’s Row in the Bogside, across the Peace Bridge and through St Columb’s Park where they were prevented from entering the venue where the recruitment drive was taking place. The protestors eventually made their way from Browning Drive, through St Columb’s Park, to the entrance of St Columb’s Park House. A heavy police presence was maintained throughout the incident which lasted for over an hour but took place without any incident.

However Councillor Donnelly claimed that at the outset of the afternoon police caused a bottleneck at the junction of Rossville street and William Street by halting a car containing protestors who intended to attend the event and created a ‘bottleneck’ of people in the area.

Asked if he accepted police contentions that he and others had taken part in an ‘illegal procession’, he said: “If that is what they are saying then surely a group of people walking to a football match together also constitutes an illegal parade.

“I remember a loyalist protest a few years back when they paraded over the Peace Bridge having walked from both the Fountain and Bonds Street to do so. Has anyone been prosecuted for that? If not then I have to question the PSNI’s motivation for sending me this letter.”

The parade referred to by Mr Donnelly was a loyalist flag parade in the city in December, 2012.

A police statement issued to the media at the time confirmed that up to 300 people took part in it and stated: “Police have carried out evidence gathering in relation to the actions of some of these protestors and a file will be prepared for the PPS.”

Councillor Donnelly added: “I will not be co-operating with the PSNI. They can arrest me if I wish, but as far as I am concerned I did not take part in an illegal parade and I have committed no offence. Nothing merits me going into Strand Road police station to explain my position on anything.

“Obviously I do not want to be arrested, but if I attend then they will look to have me attend week in and week out or some pretext or other.”

When asked for their take on Mr Donnelly’s comments on the situation a spokesman for the PSNI said: “We do not comment on enquiries in relation to named individuals.”