There was no room at the inn for Nigel Farage yesterday as the UKIP leader was turned away by Belfast’s famous Crown Liquor Saloon, leaving the anti-EU politician to cross the road for a pint in the Europa Hotel.
Arriving in Belfast for a full day campaigning on behalf of his party’s European and council candidates, the charismatic politician was heckled by a handful of protesters who shouted that his party was “spreading fear and hatred of immigrents”.
Mr Farage, for whom photo-opportunities featuring him with a beer have become a trademark, sank his pint of Murphy’s in the Europa Hotel as party candidates and photographers looked on.
But he had originally been scheduled to pose in the Crown opposite.
A party official said there had been a problem with the pub’s management letting them take photographs, so instead they had relocated across the road to the considerably less famous surroundings of the hotel’s first floor bar.
Prior to the lunchtime drink, Mr Farage did a series of media interviews in which he insisted that his party was taking Northern Ireland seriously.
Speaking to the News Letter, he said that it was “tougher” in Northern Ireland because the Province returns the fewest MEPs of any part of the UK.
He stressed the party’s “undeniably” unionist credentials but “a non-sectarian unionist party” organised on a UK-wide basis and added: “The reason that UKIP could cause a surprise here is that we are able to pick up votes from both sides of the community.”
He claimed that there was “some evidence of Catholic farmers and fishermen who have joined UKIP” in Northern Ireland and said that the issue of EU membership “should cross every traditional boundary — of right and left, of Catholic and Protestant or whatrever it may be because unless we sort this problem out the United Kingdom is not a self-governing nation; it doesn’t have the ability to set and make its own laws nd it can’t even control its own borders.”
Asked about two areas of law where Northern Ireland is separate from the rest of the UK, Mr Farage did not give firm answers, but indicated that he had traditional views.
Mr Farage said that he thought “the rush to gay marriage was something that was done without really thinking through what is our position with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg”, something he said could land the Church of England in legal difficulties.
On the issue of abortion, he said that he believed the law needed to be “reformed” because medical advances meant that premature babies at 22 weeks are being saved in hospitals, yet under English law abortions can take place up to 24 weeks.