Belfast Telegraph

Loyalists accuse Britain First of hijacking Belfast protest

By Leona O'Neill

A senior figure from controversial far-Right group Britain First has defended a planned appearance during a loyalist protest coinciding with an anti-internment parade in Belfast city centre.

But organisers of next weekend's Loyal People's Protest have accused the group of hijacking their event.

The loyalist "anti-terrorism march" is due to take place at the same time as the republican Anti-Internment League parade.

Tensions are high in the run-up to both marches on August 6 and there are concerns over the potential for violence as loyalists and republicans take to the streets en masse.

Britain First said the rally will be addressed by "pro-British, anti-Islamic, anti-immigration" Britain First leader Paul Golding and his deputy Jayda Fransen.

Belfast independent unionist councillor Jolene Bunting is also listed to appear.

However, the Loyal People's Protest Facebook page stated: "We are not affiliated to any political party, or any independent councillors on Belfast City Council. No one will speak at this March without our approval."

It also posted a photo of Britain First's poster for the event with the word 'Hijacked' plastered across it.

Britain First encourages members to "take our country back". Its website shows pictures of countryside "activist training camps" and is littered with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stories.

London-based deputy leader Fransen (31) told the Belfast Telegraph that support for her group was growing in Northern Ireland and that it was "happy to stand with Northern Irish people to ensure Ulster doesn't fall to Islam the way the mainland has".

"One of our main core issues is tackling Islamic extremism and all forms of extremism and terrorism," she claimed.

"We are getting far more active in Northern Ireland. This march is a good opportunity for us to reach out to the people in Northern Ireland.

"We have a huge amount of support over there and there are a lot of calls for us to be more active there.

Paul had been in Northern Ireland over the Twelfth and we plan to come over far more frequently now, myself particularly."

Ms Fransen said one of the group's key issues and concerns was Islamic terrorism.

She added: "Obviously the issue on the mainland is far worse than it is in Northern Ireland.

"Our concern is that we keep Britain British, and of course, Ulster forms part of Britain (sic).

"We would hate to see the situation we have here - as in my home town of London is no longer recognisable, it has been completely colonised, and it is not a safe place to be.

"We want to raise awareness about that and stand with the British people in Ulster.

"The message that we will be bringing over is that there is a new threat, the greatest threat to our country, and indeed the world, is Islamic terrorism.

"You only have to turn on the news to see that the world is at war with Islam and we want to make sure that Ulster doesn't fall the way that the mainland has.

"Britain First is a political movement, but we are also a street movement. Ultimately, we believe that the country is going to descend into civil war and we believe that it will be Britain First who will lead the resistance against that."

The Anti-Internment League is planning its event from 11.30am through until 2pm, and has predicted 5,000 supporters will attend.

The planned route for its march will pass through parts of north and west Belfast including Ardoyne Avenue, Cliftonville Road, New Lodge and Divis Street - and will also pass through central Belfast.

The timing of the Loyal People's Protest overlaps with the anti-internment march, with it running from 11.15am through until 1pm.

As it stands, both the anti-internment and Loyal People's Protest parades are under consideration by the Parades Commission and are considered "sensitive".

The SDLP has described the sharing of any platform with Britain First as "shameful".

However, Ms Bunting, a former TUV member, said it was right the group appear, and that it was "not right" it was considered dangerous.

"I have seen their demonstrations, I've heard them speak and they are very articulate when it comes to international terrorism," she told the BBC.

Last year a planned march by the Anti-Internment League was banned from entering Belfast city centre by the Parades Commission when it said that there was "extremely high risks of public disorder" if the parade was allowed to go ahead.

In 2015 violence erupted on Oldpark Road in north Belfast after the republican parade was stopped by police.

The Loyal People's Protest previously drew controversy for its demonstrations outside of Belfast City Hall, including a 12-hour 'Union flag vigil' on St Patrick's Day last year.

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