Plans for two mass gatherings in Belfast this weekend have been slammed as “reckless and dangerous”.
Flyers circulating online, purportedly from a group called “UK Freedom Movement”, claim the lockdown is “illegal” and urges the public to attend the gatherings, both to take place in public spaces in the city.
Police urged organisers to cancel their plans, saying they were in “conflict” with lockdown regulations and that officers would be in place at the venues.
The flyers are not confined to Northern Ireland, however, with others circulating advertising gatherings in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said that, while he recognised the current coronavirus restrictions were making peoples lives difficult, they were necessary to save lives.
“It is reckless and dangerous therefore for any group to advertise ‘mass gatherings’ within Belfast. Such flyers have appeared across other parts of the UK and are being taken seriously by police forces within those areas,” he added.
The flyers are headlined “Unified Mass Gathering Belfast” and read: “We say no to the coronavirus bill, no to mandatory vaccines, no to the new normal and no to the unlawful lockdown.
“’Bring a picnic, some music and let’s have some fun and say yes to life!”
Mr Stalford added: “Such images are circulating along with a range of conspiracy theories and fake news online. Indeed, the flyers for these supposed gatherings talk even mention opposition to ‘mandatory vaccinations’.
“Others involved in attempting to organise such gatherings in other locations have even referenced the bizarre and completely ridiculous claim that 5G mobile phone masts have been causing the illness rather than the virus.
“I would encourage people not to share these images, even with the intention of opposing the event or highlighting the obvious flaws in the thinking behind it. Through publicising the locations or exact timings it only increases the chances that people may go to the venue, even out of curiosity.
“Everyone wants to see restrictions lifted here in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible. The irony which is undoubtedly lost on those supporting such gatherings is that should people be foolish enough to attend, then they only risk increasing transmission of the virus and necessitating longer and possibly stricter controls to be imposed.”
Police said they were aware of the posts and stressed the organising or attending any such gathering was “in direct conflict” with the coronavirus regulations.
“Police advise organisers to be responsible and cancel this event. We also strongly advise against anyone considering attending,” a spokeswoman said.
“While appropriate policing operations and resources will be in place, it is essential that we all respect the current guidance and regulations as we all share the responsibility to keep people safe during this global health emergency crisis.”