Hundreds protest against far-right rally in Belfast
Counter-demonstrators call for solidarity with refugees amid UK Freedom Rally
Counter-demonstrators protest against the UK Freedom Rally in Belfast. Photograph: Amanda Ferguson
Attendees at the UK Freedom Rally in Belfast. Photograph: Amanda Ferguson
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll has said that every time the far-right tries to mobilise in Belfast they will be met with opposition from anti-fascist activists sending the message that refugees and migrants are welcome.
Mr Carroll made the comments on Saturday at a counter-demonstration to the third UK Freedom Rally to take place in the city over the summer.
He said it was vital to take a stand against independent unionist councillor Jolene Bunting, Britain First and Generation Identity as they were “whipping up fear and hatred against refugees, immigrants and Muslims”.
“Every time they try to mobilise we will meet them with more and more people,” he said.
“Fascists aren’t welcome on our streets, racists aren’t welcome on our streets; refugees and migrants are.”
At Saturday’s event, about 300 anti-fascist demonstrators chanted “Nazi scum off our streets” as 40 UK Freedom Rally attendees waved union flags with messages such as “No Surrender” and “Lest we forget” emblazoned on them.
Counter-protester Shelley Davenport (54) from London, who has been living in Belfast for the last 13 years, said she felt it was important to take a stand against fascism and racism.
“I was a refugee,” she said.
“I was in a women’s refuge and Northern Ireland took me in.
“I know what it feels like to be rejected and I have benefited from being welcomed here.”
Workers’ Party spokesman Chris Bailie said he was at the rally to “stand against open fascism on the streets of Belfast”.
“The message is that homophobia, Islamophobia, and racism is not welcome here,” he said.
Jessie Campbell (43), from Co Tyrone, said she was at the demo because she is concerned about fascism.
“I don’t want to see a Nazi influence spread in Northern Ireland, ” she said.
Sarah Creighton (30), from Belfast, said she left the anti-fascist rally because it had been “hijacked” by dissident republicans.
“There were three or four guys in front of us shouting ‘orange bastards’ and ‘tiocfaidh ár lá’ and getting really aggressive to the PSNI when they told them off.
“They started shouting ‘SS RUC’ as well. It was very uncomfortable. Someone told them to knock it off and they were not happy. The organisers should have told them to leave.”
A Saoradh contingent attended the anti-fascism rally for a short period.
Spokesman Dee Fennell said his party stood against sectarianism, fascism and racism and that “hate being peddled by the far-right has to be confronted”.
Irish Republican Socialist Party spokesman Michael McLaughlin and his delegation were stationed behind barriers on the other side of the UK Freedom Rally.
He said his group came down early to “stop the fascists organising at City Hall”.
“We came to take their spot,” he said.
“We told the PSNI we didn’t recognise their authority in Ireland to stop us and we were pushed back down here.”
Stephen McFee (48), from Belfast, was the only person at the UK Freedom Rally who agreed to speak to The Irish Times.
He said he was there “to support the loyalists and people from this country against spongers and rapists coming in”.
A number of attendees declined the opportunity to speak to The Irish Times, because they “don’t speak to republican tabloids” that “twist words”.
Event organiser Ms Bunting, a former member of the TUV, declined to speak to the media but was later heard telling the rally that “the media ignore us”.
Ms Bunting told the rally that British prime minster Theresa May had “betrayed the British people” with her recent Brexit proposals.
She praised US president Donald Trump and called for the release from prison of British far-right figure Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson
He was jailed for 13 months in England recently for contempt of court.