Sinister elements have been accused of trying to whip up tensions at a Belfast interface, with fears that loyalist anti-protocol protests could bring trouble onto the streets.
t comes as DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told party members that he has extended a deadline he initially set in September to pull his ministers out of the Executive by the start of November.
It was claimed that the hijacking and burning of a bus in a loyalist area of Newtownards, Co Down, on Monday morning was timed to mark the DUP’s missed deadline. The two masked armed men who carried out the attack claimed to be from the Protestant Action Force and said it was the start of a new campaign against the NI Protocol.
In a letter to party members, Sir Jeffrey has said it would be “churlish” to pull down Stormont when negotiations between the EU and UK on addressing issues with the protocol remain ongoing.
“Our strategy has not changed since I first addressed party members on 1st July. The only acceptable outcome to this process is the removal of the Irish Sea border,” he wrote.
He added: “We expect real and decisive progress to be made in the coming weeks and if it doesn’t, we will act in accordance with the commitments previously given. Our collective efforts have brought us much needed progress and we must continue to present a united front within the Party and across Unionism in order to achieve our objectives.”
“The Prime Minister has been clear that the conditions to trigger Article 16 have been met and I spoke to him again last week,” he wrote.
“He agrees that rapid progress is now needed in the negotiations or the Government will take unilateral action. I expect this to include legislation to protect our position in the UK internal market.
“We should not forget the stance taken by the European Union even until recent weeks or ignore the progress that has been made.
“We secured that progress because of decisive action taken by the Democratic Unionist Party and a united focus across the Unionist family.
“Whilst we await the outcome of negotiations our strategy remains clear and unchanged.”
It comes as social media posts were circulated claiming that a protest is to be held at the interface between the loyalist Shankill area and the nationalist Springfield Road on Wednesday.
The post reads ‘Calling All Loyalists – As the DUP have let the loyalist community down once again it’s time for the people to take a stand. NI Protocol needs to go.’
The post was shared by former Independent Councillor Jolene Bunting .
Bunting lost her seat on Belfast city council in the 2019 local government elections. S he had previously been suspended from participating in meetings after over a dozen complaints about her behaviour.
Some of the complaints related to a video posted on social media earlier this year, showing far right agitator and former Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen making a statement while sitting in the lord mayor’s chair.
The PSNI have been informed of the plans to try and bring crowds to the interface on Wednesday. One local loyalist community worker said: “This event has no support from the loyalist community. Any right-thinking loyalist should steer well clear of Lanark Way. This will only create further unnecessary tensions in a community that is still trying to rebuild relationships after the unrest in April.”
Belfast DUP councillor Brian Kingston said: “The DUP is deeply concerned about the NI Protocol and has been leading the way in having it scrapped. The pressure from our party leader has managed to bring the EU to the negotiating table and that has been the right strategy.
“People have a right to protest but I would question the motivation behind those calling for others to gather at an interface. If the protest is about the protocol why have it an interface? That just creates a distraction from a very serious political matter.”
Violence broke out across Northern Ireland in April linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol. The worst of the disturbances occurred in the Shankill Road area where a bus was hijacked and set alight.
The violence spread to the Lanark Way after social media posts advertised a protest at the once volatile interface.
Police water cannon and plastic baton rounds were fired during the disturbances.
A number of police officers were injured after being attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks and stones.