Large republican banner burned as part of the protest
Hundreds of people gathered on the Shankill Road in west Belfast on Thursday evening as part of a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The event, which was not scheduled on the Parades Commission website, saw bands march along the road as protestors held banners expressing their opposition to the Irish Sea border.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the post-Brexit trading agreement between the UK and EU, has been the source of significant unionist tension over the past few months.
Organised by the ‘Greater Shankill Coalition’ group, organisers argued the protocol “represents the greatest threat to Northern Ireland’s sovereignty and status within the United Kingdom”.
A speech made by the group during the protest added: “The status of Northern Ireland is not what it was prior to the imposition of the Protocol. We can no longer stand idly by and accept this political assault on our democracy.
"We will resist in the strongest possible terms, any attempt to change the status of Northern Ireland.
"As our people are in this for the long haul. They are prepared for hard times and they are prepared to stand up to those in power from whatever quarter.”
Organisers added loyalists should “stand ready” and “be prepared to take the next steps” in resisting the protocol.
Unionist politicians have argued the protocol separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK by imposing additional checks on goods coming to NI from Great Britain.
Several large-scale loyalist protests have taken place across Northern Ireland in recent months, including events in Coleraine and Portadown within the past few weeks.
Crowds gathered in the Woodvale Park area of the road as they began the parade, with some holding Union flags while others walked with placards reading “Stop the Protocol” and “No Irish Sea border”.
One banner held read: “Protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Trigger Article 16”.
There was a significant police presence during the event, which remained peaceful.
A pro united-Ireland banner which caused controversy last month after being hung from the top of Divis Tower on the Lower Falls Road was set alight by protesters during the demonstration.
Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey described the protest as “sinister” and “disturbing”.
"We have witnessed the recent violence on the streets where property was destroyed, police officers injured and people left terrified in their homes. Those scenes cannot be repeated,” he added.
"The PSNI now need to address this illegal parade and the actions associated with it.
"Those within positions of leadership in political unionism also need to come out and condemn the scenes witnessed tonight, including masked men standing outside a DUP constituency office, and others holdings sinister banners targeting US President, Joe Biden.”
The protest in west Belfast comes during meetings of the G7 in Cornwall, with US President Biden and Boris Johnson engaging over the tensions ongoing in Northern Ireland over the protocol.
President Biden has previously suggested the row between the EU and UK regarding the protocol could “imperil peace”.
The two leaders held talks ahead of Friday’s meeting between world leaders. Following the talks, Mr Johnson said he was "optimistic" the peace process in Northern Ireland would be kept going.
Asked if Mr Biden made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland clear, Boris Johnson said: "No, he didn't.
"What I can say is that America - the United States, Washington - the UK plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do and that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going.
"That's absolutely common ground and I'm optimistic that we can do that."
The protest on the Shankill Road finished at around 8.15pm on Thursday.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the PSNI said more than 3,000 took part in the protest.
Chief Inspector Darren Fox said: “Police were in attendance at a protest gathering and un-notified procession which took place in the Woodvale and Shankill area of west Belfast earlier this evening. (Thursday 10 June).
“We estimate that more than 3,000 people took part in the un-notified procession which moved off from Woodvale Park at around 7.10pm and it made its way through the local area, dispersing at the Shankill Leisure Centre around 8pm.
“Organisers of parades/processions are required to give formal notification of their intentions which was regrettably not provided or forthcoming.
“The numbers were also in excess of that permitted under the Public Health Regulations.
"An evidence-gathering operation was in place. Police issued a number of warnings and we will now review all the footage gathered and consider any suspected breaches of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 and offences in respect of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations NI 2021."