Orange Order hails initiative after opening its halls on Saturday to facilitate protest
The Orange Order estimates tens of thousands of unionists came out over the weekend to sign an anti-protocol declaration in its halls.
Around 250 Orange properties opened on Saturday to facilitate the signings. The declaration can also be accessded online until Wednesday.
Order grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson said the initiative was a success.
“We’re delighted with the number of people who came into Orange Halls around Northern Ireland to show their opposition to the protocol,” he said.
“While we haven’t reached a final figure for the number of people who came along to sign the declaration, it looks like it will be in the tens of thousands.
“Political unionism has been very strong in opposition to the protocol. This was an opportunity for unionists everywhere to show their dissatisfaction.
“We have had people stopping their shopping trips and coming out of their homes to show their anger. We simply can’t go on being ignored and this is showing the huge level of opposition to the protocol within unionism.
“The volume of people coming out to signal their opposition is a strong message that this has to change.”
Deputy grand master Harold Henning added: “There is strong feeling against Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, and the impact this has on business.
“When you have all the unionist-elected politicians against the protocol, why is the message not getting through?”
Earlier this year loyalist demonstrations against the protocol sparked rioting.
Mr Henning described the declaration as a “peaceful means to express frustrations”.
“There will be moves in other directions to keep the pressure on and get the message out to Dublin, Europe, and to our Prime Minister, who needs to listen to the unionist people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It may be more gatherings, rallies... that’s in the future. At the minute it’s being left to the politicians to do their best to sort it out.”
DUP MP Carla Lockhart was among those who signed the declaration at Carleton Street Orange Hall on Saturday and said it was great to see a “steady stream of people” joining in.
“It shows the strength of feeling there is on the ground amongst the unionist people against the protocol, the damage it is doing economically and constitutionally to Northern Ireland,” she claimed.
“We at Westminster will continue to fight the protocol, we will continue to urge the Government to urgently act and trigger Article 16. The protocol must go.”
Meanwhile, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson urged a continued focus on efforts to remove the “Irish Sea border”.
Talks continue between the UK Government and the European Union aimed at resolving issues surrounding the protocol.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost said last week a “significant” gap still remained between the UK and the EU, with little in the way of progress on the flow of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Addressing DUP party members on Saturday, Sir Jeffrey said: “Left unchallenged, it will damage our country and our Union in the longer term.
“Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market must be respected and protected.
“As UK citizens, we should not be subject to foreign powers whilst all the time Northern Ireland diverges further from the rest of the UK.
“We have made progress in focusing minds on this.
“It is only through our determination that the EU and UK Government are back at the talks table.
“Unionists should keep focused and together we can see a resolution to this.”