NI Protocol: ‘What we need is a mass rally with our leaders together onstage’

An ex-DUP MLA has said this week’s statement of a multi-party united front against the Protocol must be followed by tangible action like a mass rally.

Friday, 1st October 2021, 3:46 pm
Rally on 1st anniversary of Anglo Irish agreement at City Hall where 200,000 people turned up. 15/11/86. 1514/86/c

Paul Berry, who was a DUP member for about 18 years before quitting in 2006, said he had recently been to peaceful street protests over the Protocol, and that grassroots loyalists are craving some kind of political direction - adding that unionists have been “too nice” up ‘til now.

He was speaking after the DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP issued what they called a “joint unionist declaration in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol” on Tuesday.

It consisted of a single paragraph, as follows:

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“We the undersigned Unionist political leaders affirm our opposition to the NI Protocol, its mechanisms and structures, and reaffirm our unalterable position that the protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect NI’s position as a constituent and integral part of the UK”.

That statement came after a declaration by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson three weeks ago that “within weeks it will be clear if there is the basis for the Assembly and Executive to continue”.

Mr Berry (who spent eight years as an MLA and currently serves as an independent councillor in Cusher district, south of Portadown) said unionist leaders are still “trying to tiptoe around”.

He said: “I think what people are looking is clear, decisive leadership. Whilst it’s good to have the four of them meeting together, I just hope it’s not a stunt and a photo opportunity.”

He said that “unionism has been forgotten about, because we’re too nice” adding that unionism’s current lack-lustre anti-Protocol efforts are a “gift” to London and the EU.

“If this [protocol] continues to gather pace and bed-in, it’s going to be more difficult in 2022 and 2023 to remove,” he concluded.

“Our forefathers would be turning in their graves when they see the actual state unionism is in today.

“I’d say that a very large demonstration with our unionist leaders on one platform with a clear strategy and clear message is what we need now.”

Another former DUP councillor, Portadown’s Darryn Causby, was more upbeat about this week’s joint statement by the party leaders.

“I’m a bit of an optimist,” he said.

“I was really encouraged by it. And what I pick up on the ground is that unionist people have a desire at grassroots level to work together. I think it’s absolutely welcome.”

He added: “I just hope actions follow.”

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Ben Lowry