Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds gather at City Hall for 'UK Freedom Rally' and counter-protest

By Andrew Madden, Local democracy reporter

A crowd of around 400 people gathered at City Hall on Saturday for a “UK Freedom Rally” and counter protest - less than 24 hours after a similar demonstration against Donald Trump’s UK visit.

Around 150 individuals from various far-right groups faced-off against 300 counter-protesters, comprised of citizens, elected reps and others  - who controversial Councillor Jolene Bunting has labelled the “far-left”.

There was a heavy police presence around Royal Avenue and City Hall as things got underway around 2.30pm, with a barricade and 50ft buffer separating the opposing crowds.

As Cllr Bunting and the “far-right” protesters marched from Sandy Row to City Hall, a crowd of just over a dozen IRSP activists arrived, before being told to move on by the PSNI - whom they do not recognise.

Instead they set up a few yards behind the the ‘far-right’ crowd, with police officers and around a dozen landrovers stationed in the immediate area.

By 3.30pm, speeches on each side were well underway, with various figures from across the UK and Ireland’s far-right speaking, while simultaneous speeches were delivered by People before Profit, Worker’s Party and Alliance reps, among others.

Irish language group Cumann Ui Cheirigh were also in attendance on the “far-left” side, who chanted “Immigrants Welcome” and “Muslims In - Fascists Out” as Jolene Bunting spoke of the “fake news” media.

People before Profit Cllr Matt Collins said he was glad to see the crowd on his side of the barricade was much larger than the demonstrations across the barricade, as was the case at previous rallies in recent weeks.

“Just look around, people in this city has a proud tradition fighting fascism and, as the crowd shows, it’s not what Belfast’s people want,” he added.

“Jolene Bunting and this far-right crowd don’t seem to get the irony of this kind of nonsense in front of City Hall - a building targeted by the Nazis in World War Two.”

Alliance Cllr David Armitage said people in Belfast shouldn’t have to protests against “dangerous ideologies”, but such ideas need to be “challenged” when they appear.

It was a relatively peaceful day at City Hall, with only a few far-right protests being escorted away from the protests by police for minor incidents of disorder.

As the crowd dispersed around 4.45pm, one passing tourist was asked by her daughter what the protests were about.

“That side there [the far-left] are fighting against racism - the other ones [the far-right] are the racists,” she replied as she passed Royal Avenue.

"Republican group Saoradh were also in attendance at the rally, with several of the anti-Agreement organisation's distinctive flags visible."

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