Veteran DUP man: I’m happy with loyalist protests – even illegal ones

A long-serving DUP figure says that even though recent loyalist parades have been illegal, he is still “happy with them” – adding that republicans seem to be able to flout regulations with impunity.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 1:13 pm
Updated Saturday, 8th May 2021, 6:59 am

Billy Ashe was speaking after a vast crowd of people marched on Thursday night from the Castlemara estate in Carrickfergus along the seafront to the town’s police station, accompanied by bandsmen.

They bore banners and placards decrying “two tier policing” as well as the Brexit Protocol.

The police estimated the crowd to number about 500, but another observer put the number closer to 1,000.

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The PSNI told the News Letter that whilst the parade did not result in any reports of disturbances, the participants were warned about it being an unnotified procession.

A number of people in recent weeks have likened the street processions in loyalist areas to a kind of pressure valve, providing angry and disaffected Protestant / unionist / loyalist neighbourhoods with a means of expressing themselves via an alternative to violence.

Alderman Ashe represents Carrickfergus on the DUP-dominated Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and is a previous mayor of the town; he’s been a councillor since 1997 and is also the party whip.

When it was put to him that the Parades Commission had not been notified of the march, making it unlawful, he said: “We’ve seen so many other people break rules and regulations and not get prosecuted.

“I think the real issue now in the loyalist community is: Why should they adhere to the rules?

“I very much regret that we’ve got to this stage. I think the powers-that-be have to learn the lessons.

“At this stage, as long as the protests are peaceful I’m happy with them.

“There’s a very real perception of two-tier policing in the loyalist community; republicans and Sinn Fein can do whatever they like.”

One of those watching the demonstration as a bystander was Ethan Agnew, a politics / criminology student at Ulster University who had been on his way to catch a train at the time.

He wrote on Twitter: “Heartwarming to see so many loyalists out protesting against corrupt policing and the Irish Sea border in loyal Carrickfergus right now.”

He also told the News Letter: “The mood of the protest was one of anger I would say, quite a tense atmosphere.

“However the protestors remained very peaceful and appeared to disperse peacefully when the end came.

“In a rough estimate I’d say it could be up to 1,000 people [although it is] difficult to tell the exact numbers to be honest – but the crowds stretched as far as the eye could see.”

Chief Superintendent Davy Beck said: “At least 500 people were in attendance.

“There were no reports of anti-social behaviour or disorder.

“Organisers of parades are required to give formal notification of their intentions.

“A number of warnings were given to participants, and an evidence-gathering operation was in place.”

He said footage would be reviewed with an eye to identifying offenders who breached either parading law or Covid regulations, or both.

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