Loyalist protests: ‘I get why people want DUP to quit Policing Board – but now is not the time’

A senior DUP figure says he understands why many loyalists want his party to walk out of the Policing Board, but that the time has not come for it to happen.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 8th April 2021, 9:48 am

However Mervyn Storey, MLA for North Antrim, said the option remains on the table if the party leadership decide to withdraw him and the three other DUP figures from the body.

He was speaking after a behind-closed-doors meeting of the Policing Board yesterday, in which the Chief Constable Simon Byrne briefed members about the recent rioting in loyalist areas.

Tuesday night appeared much quieter than on previous evenings, although there were still some confrontations with police in Larne.

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PSNI pictured on the Antiville Road on Tuesday after loyalists took part in a protest at the Antiville roundabout

The Policing Board meeting came amid demands from the DUP, and other unionists, for Mr Byrne to quit, following the failure of the authorities to take any action against anybody involved in the Bobby Storey funeral spectacle.

Mr Storey – a former social development and finance minister, whose North Antrim constituency includes Ballymena, where trouble flared on Monday night – told the News Letter that when it comes to the DUP demand for Mr Byrne to go, “I re-iterated what’s been the position – he knows our party’s position”.

As to why the DUP is continuing to sit on the Policing Board when the chief constable has lost their confidence, Mr Storey said: “There are two reasons for that.

“It was our proposal at the board on April 1 that there’d be an independent investigation carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the actions of police in relation to Bobby Storey’s funeral.

“I was well aware of the concerns, the pressure, the commentary – many people have e-mailed me, some have raised it publicly – that we should have resigned at that stage from the Policing Board.

“The party took a view which was this was the step that we needed to take at this minute in time... not to pre-judge what is in the report, which is due on May 14.

“We could today resign from the Policing Board.

“But if we resign, under the current legislation, the justice minister could replace us by other elected members.

“That would probably mean an increased number of Sinn Fein members on the board, an increased number of Alliance members, an increased number of SDLP.

“At this minute in time, that’s not what we’re doing [quitting the board].

“However, that option still remains on the table for DUP members of the board.

“But people need to realise the consequences of that could be what I have outlined.”

When it comes to the desire of some people for such stark political action, he said: “I can see that, and understand that, and empathise with that very, very clearly.

“There’s a sense of frustration, a sense of ‘they listen but they do not hear’. And we’re seeing that played out.”

The board, which oversees the work of the PSNI, is made up of MLAs (four DUP, three SF, one each from the UUP, SDLP and Alliance) and nine independent members.

Mr Storey also said that, ahead of a band parade in the Ballykeel estate on Monday night, there had been “engagement” with some unionists on the ground, and an understanding had been reached that police would stand back and observe.

However the Tactical Support Group, or TSG – basically the PSNI riot squad – moved to intervene.

What followed was a violent confrontation with police, in which petrol bombs were thrown at officers.

Mr Storey said he had asked the chief constable yesterday for an explanation about what happened, and is awaiting a response.

“Nobody saw any TSG in west Belfast on the day of Bobby Storey’s funeral, when the police knew there was going to be a massive breach of the regulations – they weren’t to be seen,” said Mr Storey.

The Ballykeel parade was just one of three protest parades staged by loyalists that night, with the others in Portadown and Markethill apparently passing off without incident (although they were un-notified, and therefore unlawful, parades).

Whilst the Storey funeral debacle has been a catalyst for bringing loyalist youth onto the streets, it also comes against a backdrop of other recent events, including ongoing anger about the Irish Sea Brexit border which has sprung into being, imposing a regulatory barrier between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

It also comes during the Province’s centenary year; a key milestone for unionists, but one which they have been prevented from physically memorialising at Stormont, after Sinn Fein vetoed a proposal for a simple stone map of Northern Ireland to placed somewhere in the acres of grounds surrounding Parliament Buildings.

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