LOYALISTS SAY NO TO O'LOAN

LOYALISTS threatened to resume protests at Harryville chapel during a protest at last week's District Policing Partnership meeting.

Over 50 loyalists convened at the meeting in Clough to protest at recent comments on loyal order parades made by SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan, chairman of the DPP.

Before the meeting got underway, Cllr. O'Loan gave protestors the opportunity to speak and Billy McCaughey, leading Ballymena loyalist and Progressive Unionist Party official, said he wished to speak on behalf of the protestors who had 'no confidence' in Cllr. O'Loan chairing the meeting.

Mr McCaughey asked the deputy chairman of the DPP, Cllr. Hubert Nicholl, to take the meeting and each time Cllr. O'Loan attempted to start the meeting he was drowned out by co-ordinated hand-claps and chants of 'No, No' by the loyalists.

Mr McCaughey added that the protest could have been avoided if Cllr. O'Loan "accepted his total unacceptability" in Clough and called for him to resign.

Amidst catcalls and heckling, several loyalists shouted 'how would you like it if we were to protest at your chapel' in response to Cllr. O'Loan's views over loyalists marching through a mainly Catholic street in Ballymena.

Protesters, who also shouted sectarian abuse at Cllr. O'Loan, then sang a chorus of the National Anthem punctuated with chants of 'No Surrender'.

The meeting was abandoned and police, including district commander Superintendent Terry Shevlin escorted Cllr. O'Loan from the building.

After the meeting Cllr. O'Loan said it was 'regrettable' that the incident took place.

"It is fundamental to the operation of the DPPs that political representatives hold the chair in rotation and each chair deserves to have the support of whole community in carrying out their function," Cllr. O'Loan said.

He added: "What happened in this meeting clearly demonstrated no respect for free speech. Clearly the matter will now have to be considered carefully by the DPP."

Policing Board Chairman, Professor Sir Desmond Rea, condemned the disruption to the DPP meeting saying he was "disappointed" that the public meeting had to be abandoned because of protests.

"Northern Ireland has a long tradition of protesting about the comments made by politicians, but it is not acceptable that an important cross-community meeting was targeted with such disruption," Sir Desmond said.

He continued: "One of the key strengths of District Policing Partnerships is that they are a forum for members of the public, independent DPP members and local politicians from a range of parties to come together and monitor the activity of the PSNI, and to put questions to the local police commander.

"I hope that strong differing opinions will not get in the way again of the work to make local communities safer – an aspiration I believe is shared by all concerned."