NI Protocol: PSNI officers hand deliver letters to 14 suspected protestors inviting them ‘to provide an account to police’
The PSNI has sent nine police officers to the home of suspected NI Protocol protestor, aged 22, to ask him to give an account of his actions or face prosecution.
It is reported that police hand delivered letters to the homes of at least 14 people in the Markethill area on Friday night and Saturday.
One source close to events said: “We do know that there were nine officers sent by Armagh station to deliver one letter to a 22-year-old band member.”
The letter, which has been shown to the News Letter, cites a list of notified and unnotified parades in Markethill in recent weeks which it says may have breached parading and Covid legislation.
It adds: “You are suspected as having taken part. You are invited to provide an account to police.”
The letter ends: “Failure to make contact with police to arrange a suitable date for interview will result in you being reported to the Public Prosecution Service for the offences listed above”.
It is understood the local band is gathering information on the situation.
Posters have since appeared in Markethill today saying: “Markethill demands fair and equitable policing” with a photograph of the Bobby Storey funeral.
The PSNI responded: “A number of individuals received letters as part of an ongoing investigation and therefore we will not be commenting further.”
A number of notified and unnotified parades took place in Markethill in recent weeks against the NI Protocol and ‘two-tiered policing’. In some of them the band wore masks and no uniforms or insignia.
Police repeatedly warned protestors by megaphone that the parades were breaching Covid regulations and that participants were liable to prosecution, but to no avail.
In one small event three seperate police officers videoed the majority of the parade with cameras.
Some local bandsmen were angered at what they saw as a disproportionately high level of police vehicles and officers attending, which they felt dwarfed the usual police presence at even national parading events in the town in years gone by.
But Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie said that parades in Lurgan and Banbridge in recent weeks did not come under police scrutiny because they only performed in static positions, which he said was compatible with Covid regulations at that time.
The latest street protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol took place in Broughshane last night, attended by some 200 people - most of them masked.
There have been protests almost every week since Easter across different parts of the Province.
Around 200 people - the vast majority of them masked and some wearing balaclavas - paraded through Broughshane on Friday night to the tune of a flute band, carrying a banner which stated that political leaders “are not listening”.
TUV leader Jim Allister gave a strident address against the NI Protocol via a public address system.
There was a small police presence but the crowd later dispersed peacefully.
Although most protests have been peaceful, a small minority saw violence, with the PSNI reporting injuries to 100 police officers.
A sign advertising last night’s event on social media promoted it as “A call to all loyalists” and a protest against NI Protocol and “two tier policing systems”, referring to the lack of Covid-related prosecutions after the Bobby Storey funeral.
The meeting point was Broughshane Community Centre. The sign read: “Mass band all flutes and drums welcome...They aren’t listening... Time to rise up, no surrender.”
Another protest took place in Rathcoole in Newtownabbey on Thursday evening, organised by a group calling itself the East Antrim Loyalist Coalition.
It too also made reference to their anger over the fallout of the Bobby Storey funeral last summer.
It is thought up to 500 people attended, some with flags and banners.
A number of bands played as they walked from the Doagh Road to Newtownabbey PSNI Station where a letter of protest was handed to police before protesters dispersed.
The letter is reported to have said the protest was to “register our extreme dissatisfaction with the ongoing methods of political two-tiered policing, which exists in our community”.
It added that they wanted to “register our complete and absolute opposition to the treacherous Northern Ireland Protocol and the dilution of our citizenship within the United Kingdom”.
Another protest involving up to 50 people took place with no notice at Mullaglass, outside Newry, on Thursday night.
The parade briefly made its way on the main Newry to Armagh road for five minutes, taking up one lane. No police were in the area.
A further parade involving three bands is planned for Armagh City on May 29.
Other protests have previously taken place in west Belfast, Moygashel, Newtownards, Markethill, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Antrim and north Belfast.
On a number of occasions police warned protestors to disband by megaphone, due to Covid restrictions, but were ignored.
One well placed bands source suggested there is growing anger at the perception that no progress is being made on the NI Protocol.
A consensus emerged this week from Brussels, Dublin and London that significant change is needed regarding the protocol.
The news will sound positive to unionists, with all unionist political parties backing a live legal challenge against the protocol. However nationalists have been staunch defenders of the arrangement, as they saw it as an alternative to a hard EU customs border on the Irish border.
Baroness Hoey warned UK Brexit Negotiator Lord Frost recently in the House of Lords about the risk of further street violence this summer linked to the protocol, and met with him privately two weeks ago.
“I am optimistic that we will get rid of the protocol,” she told the News Letter this week. She noted that the legal challenge to the protocol by an alliance of all unionist parties started this week in the High Court.
”I think that anyone that listens to John Larkin QC’s opening argument will find it very interesting,” she said.
Broadcaster Stephen Nolan also said this week that the protocol could end altogether. A senior government source told him people are “underestimating how quickly Boris Johnson might pull the protocol”.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday that Brussels is “very much aware” of the need for solutions before the start of the NI marching season.
Speaking after a meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, Mr Coveney said: “I think there is a pressure that we find a way to come up with solutions by some point in June, and I think the Commission is very much aware of that and I’m sure the British government is too.”
And David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), said he detected “a huge change” when he met the government this week on the issue.
“Up to now both governments have consistently rebutted the idea that the protocol breaches the [Belfast] Agreement,” he said. “But when we put these same arguments forward this week there was no rebuttal whatsoever from the Secretary of State or Lord Frost... it was a definite change from where they had been two or three weeks ago.”
Several senior unionists claimed this week that the UK strategy had been to wait until the UK-EU trade deal was ratified - just over two weeks ago - and then aggressively challenge the protocol.
“I do think Frost’s whole body language in our meeting and the fact that he was very forthright were significant,” Mr Campbell added.
He believes Lord Frost was particularly impacted by LCC members who told how they “risked their own safety” to try and calm recent riots.
After hearing this, he said, Lord Frost had responded: “I needed to hear this - but the European Commission needs to hear it as well”.
Ten Downing Street told the News Letter this week that the arrangements “will only last” with cross-community consent.
It said: “The protocol is designed to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions and preserve the gains of the peace process. It is important that solutions are found so that the protocol delivers on these objectives. The arrangements for NI will only last if there is cross-community confidence and consent in the arrangements. All sides need to be practical, pragmatic and work to sustain that confidence”.
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