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Policing of coronavirus regulations must be consistent, says Michelle O’Neill

Police issued 70 fines to people attending anti-racism rallies in Belfast and Londonderry but none to another gathering at the weekend.

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People gathered outside City Hall in Belfast in Northern Ireland at the weekend to the protect war memorials in its grounds. (Niall Carson/PA)

People gathered outside City Hall in Belfast in Northern Ireland at the weekend to the protect war memorials in its grounds. (Niall Carson/PA)

People gathered outside City Hall in Belfast in Northern Ireland at the weekend to the protect war memorials in its grounds. (Niall Carson/PA)

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister has said it is important for the policing of coronavirus regulations to be consistent.

Michelle O’Neill was speaking after the PSNI was criticised from some quarters over the number of fines handed out at a gathering at the weekend.

Almost 70 fines were issued by officers to people taking part in anti-racism demonstrations in Belfast and Londonderry earlier this month.

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Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

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Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

But no fines were handed out at a gathering last weekend by people who said they wanted to protect monuments at Belfast City Hall.

No more than 10 people may come together, according to regulations aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.

Ms O’Neill said there “must be consistency in terms of the policing approach to enforcing the regulations”.

She said her party colleague Gerry Kelly had raised the matter with the Policing Board.

“I know the Policing Board is looking at this but you need to be consistent in everything you do and so I think that it’s important that the police are also consistent,” she added.

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Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

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Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster said she had discussed the matter with Chief Constable Simon Byrne earlier that day during a prearranged meeting.

“The issue of policing of protests was one of the issues that we talked about, it is important of course to be consistent in the application of the law,” she said.

“He said that he would be giving a report to the Policing Board on the operational issues that he wanted to report on so I think it is a matter for the Policing Board to raise with the Chief Constable.

“I know there’s been a number of groups that have come together and we understand that people want to come to congregate together for different reasons, sometimes for social reasons, sometimes for issue of protests, but people need to remember that the regulations are still in place in terms of mass gathering.

“At the moment there’s only supposed to be 10 people for a purpose coming together outside and still socially distancing, so we would appeal to people to bear that in mind when they are out and about.”

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