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Orange chief Gibson's 'civil disobedience' comments 'misrepresented'

UUP insists unionists must 'use brains, not brawn'

Mervyn Gibson
Mervyn Gibson

By Staff Reporter

A leading Orangeman has said he has been misrepresented over comments about civil disobedience in Northern Ireland should Boris Johnson's Brexit deal pass through parliament.

Mervyn Gibson told the BBC's The View programme that "civil disobedience" could be an option to fight the Prime Minister's Brexit proposals for Northern Ireland.

The Orange grand secretary said he was speaking in a personal capacity.

He stressed he was not advocating violence or breaking the law in any form.

"I'm trying to stop young fellas going to jail," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"There's a misconception about what I meant by civil disobedience, which is what Martin Luther King did in America with non-violence.

"That seems to have become construed with the flag protest somehow, at no time did I call for people to go on the street."

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal effectively puts a border down the Irish Sea, something vehemently rejected by unionists in Northern Ireland.

"One of the options for whatever comes out post December 12 is civil disobedience," added Mr Gibson.

"I clearly said we don't know what's going to happen after December 12. But whatever it is, it does not need a knee jerk reaction but a thought through strategy from united unionism.

"On the street protests that lead to violence isn't the way forward. It's failed in the past, too many young lads and girls have gone to jail for nothing.

"So whatever we do needs to be effective to change things, but I can't yet be specific about what civil disobedience meant because Boris Johnson could change his mind about whether we can influence the Brexit legislation.

"I'm against a knee jerk reaction, street protest and violence. I made that quite clear.

"I still want some sort of protest against the Brexit deal, but not street protests or violence. It could be something like withholding forms,  a rates strike but I can't know what it is until after December 12."

Meanwhile the Ulster Unionists warned that the tactic of civil disobedience had proved ineffective in the past.

"Lessons must be learned from the past in terms of civil disobedience and street protest," a spokesman said.

"It didn't work in the late 1980s to bring an end to the Anglo Irish Agreement and it didn't work in more recent times regarding the City Hall flag protests."

The spokesman said that his party was opposed to Mr Johnson's Brexit plans for Northern Ireland, saying that unionists needed to "use brains, not brawn".

"The last thing we need is to see more young people sucked into confrontation and the courts to serve the agenda of certain elements in the background who would seek to gain credibility and kudos by taking advantage of legitimate fears and concerns.

"We need cool heads and calm reflection."

Prominent loyalist and Belfast City councillor Billy Hutchinson was also unenthusiastic about proposals for a unionist civil disobedience campaign.

"Who are they going to fight?" he asked. "Are they going to fight Boris Johnson?

"Are the going to fight the British Government? We are British," he also told the BBC's The View programme.

And writing last night on social media, the PUP councillor said political unionism needed to think hard about the changing demographics of Northern Ireland, and endorsed a call for a 'Unionist Convention' to agree a way forward.

The "civil disobedience" call came as a planned loyalist protest outside the offices of the Conservative Party in Belfast was cancelled without explanation.

The protest at the city centre office building was to have taken place on December 9.

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