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Shock as Belfast City Council brands pro-choice rally organisers a 'dissident republican group'

By Jonny Bell

A Green Party councillor has told of her shock after Belfast City Council mistakenly described those behind a pro-choice abortion rally at city hall as a "dissident republican group".

The description was made in error by a staff member in an email sent out to councillors on Wednesday morning.

At noon Strike4Choice held a protest at the gates of city hall. It called for supporters to ditch work and join its call to end Northern Ireland's "outdated" abortion laws.

In an email sent out to councillors under the subject of 'protests at city hall - cyber crime - on line safety event - Wednesday March 8' the staff member provided an update on a security briefing with police.

The email said: "A PSNI officer will be one of the main speakers at this event and this has resulted in Dissident Republican groups (Strike for Choice and SOARDH) notifying their intention to protest at Belfast City Hall."

The PSNI is expected to mount a major security operation at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday night as dissident republicans gather to protest against a police officer addressing a meeting on cyber safety.

More: Belfast city hall lockdown after dissidents protest threat

Belfast City Council has since apologised to Strike4Choice for any offence caused by their mistake.

A spokesman said: "An internal memo on a potential protest at City Hall inadvertently mentioned a group who were due to take part in a different protest on the same day at a different time.

"Belfast City Council unreservedly apologises to Strike for Choice for any offence caused by this error."

Green Party councillor Georgina Milne was among those to receive the email.

"I am a supporter of Strike4Choice," she said.

“Strike4Choice has absolutely nothing to do with dissident republicanism. Rather, the protest at Belfast City Hall challenged the criminalisation of women through archaic abortion laws.

“I am shocked that Belfast City Council got this so wrong. It shows a serious lack of awareness and understanding of current issues and non-violent protest movements.

“I was particularly galled to receive the memo by email on International Women’s Day."

She added: “I call on Belfast City Council to explain their position as soon as possible. I will also raise the matter at the next Belfast City Council meeting and would expect a full explanation as soon as possible.”

Strike4Choice organiser Kellie McConnell said the lunchtime protest was a great success with around 400 people attending.

"It was a good turn out, the weather held off. We had great speakers and a terrific samba band."

She added: "We assume this was an error made by the council, mistaking Strike4Choice with another group.

"We are much more concerned about that fact that we don't have access to free, safe and legal abortion in Northern Ireland. It still happens, but we either have to travel to another country out of pocket, or we face prosecution for taking safe but illegal pills.

"Strike4Choice is a grassroots organisation to draw attention to the severe lack of reproductive healthcare in Northern Ireland, and to demand reform to our outdated and tyrannical abortion laws. We stand in solidarity with Strike4Repeal actions in Ireland, and around the world.

"We did inform Belfast City Centre PSNI ahead of the event of our intent to protest our politicians' lack of action to provide women's human rights."

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