Far-right won't hijack 'yellow vest' protest at City Hall: organiser
The organiser of a 'yellow vest' rally in Belfast says his group rejected a proposal to hold a joint demonstration with another inspired by recent French protests in order to prevent the event being hijacked by extremists.
Calum Cowie (23) is a member of Yellow Vest Occupy Belfast, which will hold a "peaceful, non-violent" protest at the City Hall on January 12.
Among the group's aims are an end to cuts to public services and zero hour contracts, and the building of more social housing.
A second protest by an organisation calling itself the Yellow Vest Movement of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is planned at the same place on January 19.
This second group displays far-right sympathies on its social media page.
Images include a figure with a hammer attacking the star and crescent symbol alongside the words 'Smash Islam', and a clenched fist covered in a Union flag.
Another shows a young white girl surrounded by figures in burkhas with their backs to the camera and is captioned: "Britain 2050: Why didn't you stop them grandad?"
The yellow vest movement began in France last year as a protest against fuel taxes.
Mr Cowie says his group was contacted by the Yellow Vest Movement of Great Britain and Northern Ireland proposing a joint City Hall rally.
"But when we went on their page and saw their material was xenophobic and anti-immigration, we distanced ourselves," he said.
"I personally think that the material on their page was disgusting. They seem like a right-wing/far-right group trying to utilise the yellow vest movement for their own ends.
"We turned down the offer so they couldn't hijack our event.
"We're not in any way supportive of those ideas. We don't want anyone from the far-right to turn up at our event. It's a non-violent, peaceful protest.
"These groups twist socio-economic inequality by trying to blame it on immigration, not the real causes, like wealth disparity. They use it as an opportunity for their own ends.
"Our protest is totally different. We support equality for ethnic groups, LGBT and trans rights, and abortion rights."
Speakers will be drawn from groups such as trade unions, equality groups and political parties.
"There could be between 100 and 300 people attending, potentially more," he added.
"This event is driven by frustration. It's time for change."
The call centre worker expects more 'yellow vest' events to be held here in future, but warned that others should also guard against their aims being distorted.
"Organisers have to be careful that they don't attract the far right or they don't jump on the bandwagon," he said.
"We were inspired by what happened in France, but not by the more unsavoury elements."