Belfast Telegraph

Dissident ‘bully-boys’ blasted after youth club cancels event with police over protest fears

The Long Tower Youth and Community Centre
The Long Tower Youth and Community Centre
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A dissident republican party has been slammed for refusing to condemn violence after it forced a youth club to axe an event involving the PSNI.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said Saoradh, which denies being the political wing of the New IRA, is only the latest example of a group that "point-blank refuses" to oppose dissident violence.

"They are thugs and bullies," he said. "When asked to justify it they can't, so they just refuse to condemn it. All that does is fracture community relations."

It comes after The Long Tower Youth and Community Centre in Londonderry cancelled a conference in the Guildhall on Wednesday because Saoradh had warned it would protest because of police involvement.

Organisers said they were left with no choice but to cancel the event after Saoradh refused to engage in dialogue.

Yesterday Saoradh's Paddy Gallagher said he saw "no point" in condemning violence and murder as he defended the group's opposition to "British Crown forces" addressing young people in Derry.

While he denied party links with any other groups, including violent dissidents, he repeatedly said he understood republican violence when asked about the tactics of the New IRA, which planted a car bomb outside Bishop Street Courthouse in January.

When asked on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show about a group of teenagers who walked past the vehicle just minutes before it exploded, he replied: "What about them?"

Only after being pressed a number of times on the issue did Mr Gallagher describe all deaths in "occupied Ireland" as "regrettable".

He then went on to claim that the vast majority of nationalists have little to no confidence in the PSNI. hen asked how much support they have in his party, he replied: "That remains to be seen."

Mr Campbell said he hoped the rhetoric would push ordinary people away from the organisation.

"Even Sinn Fein, which never used to, couches its words in the condemnation of violence," he said.

"There isn't a popular mandate for any other viewpoint."

Mr Campbell criticised the group for its agenda of seeking "to stop Catholics joining the police", and for its double standards.

"They want it both ways. They want to stop Catholics joining and then they want to condemn the PSNI for not being representative," he said.

Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan described Saoradh's refusal to engage with the youth club as "typical of their failure to rationalise or defend their actions".

"They should withdraw the threat to protest and allow the youth club to get on with the positive work they are doing," she added.

Yesterday Chief Constable George Hamilton branded Saoradh's ability to exercise enough influence to stop the event as "disgraceful".

"This was not some sort of cosy tea and biscuits event," he said.

"This was hard-edged young people, who had their concerns about policing, coming to challenge their local police about how they conducted themselves."

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said he believed Saoradh's attempt to intimidate young people out of engaging with police was a "mark of desperation" as he told a Policing Board meeting there were no "no go" areas for the PSNI.

Last night the chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland also condemned the group for preventing a genuine attempt to hold a forum where young people could engage with police about certain tactics "designed to restrict and counter life-threatening terrorist actions" in Derry.

"It is a real pity the organisers called off the meeting in the face of such bully-boy tactics, but I fully understand the reasons for the decision," Mark Lindsay added.

"People want normality, free from thugs and gangsters who masquerade under a flag of convenience."

He said the community did not deserve to have its voices silenced by the actions of "a few who cannot bear to think" that the PSNI was making progress.

Policing Board chair Anne Connolly said there was no excuse for the threat against the youth club which prevented people freely engaging with police.

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