Ukip fury after Belfast community centre backs out of hosting talk on migrant problem by party's MEP
Ukip has reacted with fury after an EU-funded east Belfast community centre backed out of hosting an event involving one of its MEPs.
The Eurosceptic party had planned to hold a public meeting last night in east Belfast's Skainos centre - but at the last minute the Skainos board pulled the plug.
Party officials had to scramble to find an alternative venue for the speech on the migrant crisis by MEP Steven Woolfe, the party's migration spokesman, and they eventually found a welcome in the Park Avenue Hotel, where 100 people gathered to hear the MPE's talk.
Mr Woolfe, who is MEP for North West England, was on a whistle-stop visit to Northern Ireland.
In a statement, Ukip said: "This is a blatant attempt to stifle democratic expression of a legitimate national political party representing four million people across this country."
A spokesman said that the party had been told yesterday that Skainos did not permit political meetings in the centre.
However, the Ukip event had been booked for a month, and Ukip officials had been welcomed to Skainos just yesterday as they finalised seating and refreshment arrangements with staff.
"The party is disappointed and disgusted at this outrageous action by Skainos," Ukip MLA David McNarry told the Belfast Telegraph last night.
"It seems like Skainos just don't want a Ukipper about the place," he said.
"They are very happy to promote the Irish language - but not free speech."
It understood Mr Woolfe is particularly angry that an EU-funded facility has banned a member of the European Parliament from using its facilities.
Mr McNarry said the MEP was "astounded" by the Skainos decision to ban the event.
The MLA said that the party did not intend to let the matter rest.
"We will be speaking to the centre's management on Monday, he said.
"Their last-minute action today was very unprofessional of them. And their reasons for the cancellation just don't stack up."
In January 2014 the Skainos Centre hosted an event where Patrick Magee, who bombed Brighton's Grand Hotel during the Conservative Party Conference in 1984, was guest speaker.
Magee and Jo Berry, who lost her father in the 1984 attack, were taking part in a festival called Listening to Your Enemies. Trouble erupted outside the venue after protesters threw fireworks and stones.
In March 2014 the Green Party held its annual conference at the centre.
Skainos did not respond to requests for comment last night.