Peaceful anti-G8 protest held in Belfast
Environmentalists, trade unionists and other activists parade through city centre
A demonstrator holds a placard depicting Britain prime minister David Cameron during a protest in Belfast against the upcoming G8 summit. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
People take part in a demonstration against the upcoming G8 summit in Belfast today. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
Protesters wave placards and flags during an anti-G8 demonstration in Belfast city centre this afternoon. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
Protesters rallied this afternoon at Belfast’s City Hall against the agenda of the G8 leaders meeting in Co Fermanagh next week.
The protest, organised by the Northern committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, marched from Custom House Square to the city centre in a peaceful yet noisy demonstration calling for an end to hunger in the developing world and a switch from austerity in rich countries. Police estimated the crowd at about 1,500.
Meanwhile, dismal weather this afternoon hit the expected turnout for the Enough Food For Everyone IF world hunger campaign concert in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens.
The City Hall rally, led by the main public sector and health unions, included protesters from local protest bodies and pressure groups. Amnesty International was well represented as were pro-Palestinian groups, anti-fracking bodies, environmentalists, the Community Party of Ireland, Connolly Youth and the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
There was a significant security presence with dozens of PSNI armoured vehicles at key junctions in the city centre and close to City Hall which had protective screens fitted on its stained glass windows.
However, the mood was relaxed and police officers, none of whom was in riot gear, mingled easily with the crowd.
The march was met at City Hall by Northern chair of Ictu Pamela Dooley and Belfast Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir.
“Today is a defining moment in our history,” Ms Dooley said. “The eight people meeting in Fermanagh are leaders of some of the richest and most powerful countries on the planet. They do not have our consent to form a Gang of 8 or 9 or 20 in order to force their damaging policies on the rest of us.
“For our members and their families there is no financial bail-out, only worry about She said there is an obligation on the trade union movement and civil society to stand together “to demand a different and better way” and a change from the “consequences of a corrupt capitalist system bereft of moral standards”.
“This is not democracy. This is not compliance with human rights obligations in our own jurisdiction, let alone around the world. This is hypocrisy and greed which holds the seven billion human beings on this planet in contempt.”
As participants gathered at City Hall for speeches, a separate demonstration was being staged by Northern Ireland-based loyalists unhappy at last year’s decision by Belfast City Council to limit the number of days the Union flag flies over City Hall. Similar flag protests have been staged outside City Hall on Saturdays since the controversy flared.
Some 100 loyalists congregated near the gates of the landmark building with around the same number of police officers forming a human barrier to ensure they were kept apart from the anti-G8 rally.
The G8 leaders are arriving at the Lough Erne golf resort in Fermanagh for the two-day meeting starting on Monday.
Up to 10,000 people had been expected to turn out for the free concert and rally for a change in G8 policies, but poor weather had a detrimental effect.
The IF campaign event was backed by the main churches and third world charities including Trócaire, Oxfam, Tearfund and Christian Aid.
The atmosphere was upbeat and positive despite the poor conditions. The crowd was urged to tweet or email British prime minister David Cameron to insist the world trade system be changed to allow the world’s starving a fair chance to escape from poverty.
They were treated to performances by local artists ranging from the Ulster Orchestra, the Two Door Cinema Club and Duke Special.
There was little of the significant police security that blanketed the city centre earlier for the anti-G8 rally.
Event director Dan Schofield said: “People want the opportunity to make their voices heard in a positive and dignified way so that the leaders attending the G8 summit will be in no doubt that justice for the world’s poor has to be top of the agenda in Fermanagh.”
Tim Magowan of Tearfund said: “Imagine if Northern Ireland became known as a place of agreement; a place where decisions were made which began the process of ending world hunger.”
Additional reporting: PA