Justice Minister Naomi Long hits out at ‘destabilising’ influence of anti-protocol rallies

The Justice Minister Naomi Long has said accused those of organising anti-protocol rallies of “whipping up tension” but offering no solutions.

peaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, she also condemned an “incredibly disruptive and destructive” attack on the Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie’s constituency office.

Mr Beattie has said he believes the attack, which saw a concrete block thrown at the window of his Portadown constituency office, was prompted after he announced his party would no longer take part in anti-protocol rallies over fears they were raising tensions.

Ms Long said: “It is completely unacceptable, irrespective of the excuses made by those who are involved in such attacks.

“Doug has every right to make whatever political decisions he chooses without fear of intimidation or threat.”

On the issue of anti-protocol rallies, Ms Long said she also would not attend them.

“I would not go because they are rallies against the protocol, and whilst I want to see the protocol changed I do not want to see it scrapped.

“Also I’m not going to share a platform with people who are using the type of heightened rhetoric and whipping up tensions in the community that is incredibly destabilising.”

She added: “There is no real opportunity for engagement on the protocol on these rallies.

“They are anti-protocol rallies, not discussions about the protocol.”

Ms Long said the issue of the protocol had not been raised while out campaigning in her constituency of East Belfast, which she pointed out had been pro-Brexit.

“There may be politicians who want to make this the issue of the election, but I don’t believe it is.

“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Ulster Unionist Party were attending these rallies, and when they announced that they weren’t they ended up with a brick through their window.

“Now, if people don’t think that’s sinister and concerning, I think they need to take a second look at the situation.

“These rallies have been whipping up tension, the language used by those on the platform is whipping up tension, providing a lot of heat and very little light.

“No solutions, simply grievances. I think people need to take responsibility when you feed into the kind of tensions that are already there.”

Referencing the hoax bomb alert in north Belfast on Friday, which the PSNI attributed to the UVF, Ms Long said it was a sign of how quickly events could escalate in Northern Ireland.

She said that while people were frustrated over the Protocol, the root cause was promises that were made over Brexit that weren’t delivered and that stirring up tensions without solutions was leaving people “with nowhere to go”.

Earlier in the programme, the loyalist community worker Moore Holmes said there was a pattern of “patronising commentary” against the loyalist community for taking a stand.

“The sense that I’m getting is that it’s not about raising tensions, it’s about loyalists and unionists who are finally raising their voice and saying that this is wrong.”

Ms Long said it was hard to argue they were being ignored, when many of their representatives seemed to have an “open-mic” on the BBC on a daily basis.

“They are being listened to and heard, but they’re not being agreed with.”

She said it was her right to disagree and that she refused to endorse “fantasy politics” that the Protocol would disappear.

“That isn’t a solution, the one thing I know that will frustrate people more is false promises.”

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