PSNI pressed on legality of replica weapons at border Brexit protests

The PSNI and Garda have been challenged as to whether border anti-Brexit protests have been committing firearms and other public order offences.

The protests have been promoted by Sinn Fein and organised under the banner of ‘Border Communities Against Brexit’ and have taken place repeatedly on the border during the Brexit debate, and again last Saturday.

'Border Communities Against Brexit' came together on the old Dublin Road outside Newry where they staged a protest on 26 January. Protestors with replica weapons pretending to be British soldiers took part, while a mock British army checkpoint was dismantled. 'Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

'Border Communities Against Brexit' came together on the old Dublin Road outside Newry where they staged a protest on 26 January. Protestors with replica weapons pretending to be British soldiers took part, while a mock British army checkpoint was dismantled. 'Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

But one former PSNI officer has concerns. “There are bound to be many current or former security forces members who feel very anxious passing through a simulated border checkpoints with people carrying replica automatic weapons,” he said. “Are the PSNI and Garda monitoring these protests and do they have any concern about members of the public being put in fear due to their nature?”

A number of offences he felt could be investigated included provocative conduct, obstructive sitting, wearing uniforms for political purposes, carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent and carrying a firearm or imitation firearm in a public place.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said he trusted the PSNI satisfied themselves as to who owns the replica weapons.

“Bearing in mind the legal requirements that other groups have to abide by to hold a parade, rally or protest, I wonder just what action the police are taking against any illegal protests and roadblocks that may be taking place?” he asked.

I fully understand why many people would feel fearful if they encountered such a protest with realistic looking weapons, and the police need to act to ensure the law is enforced

Doug Beattie MLA

“I fully understand why many people would feel fearful if they encountered such a protest with realistic looking weapons, and the police need to act to ensure the law is enforced.”

However the PSNI said it had no concerns. Chief Supt Simon Walls said: “People have a legitimate and democratic right to protest peacefully and PSNI officers engaged with the organisers of a number of events both ahead of Saturday 30 March and on the day itself.”

The PSNI was present at a number of locations on Saturday and any protests that took place in NI “passed off without incident” he said.

A Garda spokesman described steps it is taking to consider policing and Brexit but declined to comment on the protests specifically.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said: “Thousands of people took part in demonstrations along the border to protest against the British government’s reckless plans to drag the north out of the EU against our will.

“Brexit will have a devastating impact on the north and will decimate communities along the border. Any allegations of any wrongdoing should be brought forward to the police.”