Northern Ireland gospel preachers arrested by Gardai are to go on trial in Republic of Ireland after preaching against homosexuality
Three street preachers from Northern Ireland have been arrested in Dundalk after preaching against homosexuality and are due to appear at the town’s district court on public order offences.
In video footage seen by the News Letter the three men were using a public address system to preach in Dundalk when they were approached by three Garda officers.
In a partial clip of the exchange, one officer challenges them for preaching against homosexuality and they are asking to stop preaching, but refuse and are arrested.
Ryan Williamson, 44, and Robert Ervine, 34, both from Loughbrickland in Co Down, and Sean Paul Tully, 43, from west Belfast, were all handcuffed and taken into Dundalk Garda station where they were held for several hours before being released.
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A Garda spokesman said: “Gardaí arrested three men (two in their 40s, one in their 30s) for public order offences in Market Square, Dundalk, Tuesday 21 September 2021. All three have since been charged and are due to appear before Dundalk District Court on the 13 October.”
Businesman Mr Williamson was also arrested in Larne by the PSNI in August, also after preaching against homosexuality.He told the News Letter: “I think what happened in Dundalk is just the same as before, people are weaponising the police against us with complaints. The Garda told us we could not preach against homosexuality but that is what the bible says and that is why we preach it.”
Dundalk solicitor Ciaran Mullholland of Mullholland Law, who is acting for the three men, said: “I have made representations to the Superintendent to withdraw and discontinue the prosecution.”
The solicitor added: “A complaint has also been filed with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. In my view it just epitomises over-zealous policing. From what I am aware there has been no official statement of complaint made against the three individuals.” Mr Mullholland also said that in his view, the Irish constitution gave the three men freedom to carry out their actions.
Mr Williamson has said they have been preaching in various towns across Northern Ireland for 13 years. However he says that in the past twelve months the PSNI have begun approaching them on a regular basis asking them to stop preaching against homosexuality.
Belfast Green councillor Malachai O’Hara, who is a member of the LGBT community, recently posted a photograph of Mr Williamson preaching outside Belfast City Hall.
The councillor said: “Again today these extremist preachers at the front of city hall. People have a right to express their faith in the public space, but the rules must apply equally to everyone.
“I got them moved on 3 times last week and despite being issued tickets they keep parking up in this space. Nobody is allowed to park here without express permission. Permission they do not have.
They try to take over the public space with sheer volume of their preaching.
“I am also deeply concerned that while they have a right to preach, they are almost exclusively focused on sexual orientation and gender. To me they are crossing the line into harassment. I will be lodging a hate incident tonight. I would encourage you all to do the same if you have had this experience.
“At city council we are working to draft bylaws that strike the fine balance between guaranteeing rights of expression and not dominating the public space.”
Mr O’Hara’s comments drew 200 responses on Facebook. The vast majority were strongly supportive of him although a small minority defended the civil liberties of the preacher.
After Mr Williamson’s arrest in his home jurisdiction of Northern Ireland almost two months ago, high profile English LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said he could see “no justification” for actions of the PSNI.
Speaking in August after viewing videos of Mr Williamson’s arrest in Larne, Mr Tatchell told the News Letter: “I strongly disagree with the street preacher’s anti-gay views, but I can see no justification for his arrest.
“As far as I am aware, he was not abusing, threatening or harassing anyone.
“In a free society, disagreeable opinions should be challenged but not subjected to heavy-handed police action.
“I am sure the PSNI meant well but they appear to have overstepped the law in this case.”
Mr Tatchell made headlines in 2016 when he changed his mind over the Ashers ‘gay cake’ case; having initially supported legal action against the bakery, he came to oppose it on free speech grounds.
The PSNI said of the Larne arrest that they had “received a complaint of hate speech and another of anti-social behaviour in relation to males preaching”.
“Officers attended the location and attempted to speak with four men, all of whom refused to engage,” the PSNI said.
“After several warnings, one man, aged 44, was arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour, taken to a nearby police vehicle and spoken to by officers about his actions towards police. He was subsequently released for report to the PPS.”
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