Loyalists have rallied at an “un-notified” procession in Northern Ireland as opposition to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol once again reaches boiling point.
According to the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI), a number of “processions” merged together before joining a protest in the center of Portadown, County Armagh, on Saturday (June 05).
The PSNI estimates that 300 people partook in the processions, while an additional 500 attended the protest.
The PSNI maintained a sizable presence in the area, notably deploying a helicopter to monitor the crowds.
The rally was organized by a group called the Unionist and Loyalist Unified Coalition.
Besides attacking the Northern Ireland Protocol, speakers at the protest also challenged mainstream unionist politicians to deliver better leadership.
The latest loyalist protest comes against the backdrop of deep turmoil inside the largest unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), over leadership issues and perceived inadequate opposition to the Protocol.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is an integral part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (effective as of February 01, 2020) whose central aim is to maintain an open land border between British-controlled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with a view to safeguarding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
However, in practice the protocol has placed a de facto border in the Irish Sea, thus potentially loosening Northern Ireland’s ties to the UK.
For that reason the Protocol elicits intense hostility from Northern Ireland’s staunchly pro-British loyalist and unionist factions.
According to the PSNI, today’s processions were "un-notified", thus compelling officers to issue verbal and visual warnings to those taking part as well as gathering evidence for potential criminal prosecutions.
In a statement, Chief Inspector Barney O'Connor said: "An evidence-gathering operation was in place and we will now review all the footage gathered and consider any suspected breaches of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998."