UK News Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill voice concerns over Black Lives Matter protest at Belfast City Hall

01:40  05 june  2020
01:40  05 june  2020 Source:   belfastlive.co.uk

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The First and Deputy First Ministers have added their voices to concerns raised over a Black Lives Matter protest at Belfast City Hall.

Both Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill said they understood the desire to rally against what Mrs Foster called the “horrific death” of George Floyd, but cautioned that social distancing rules must be adhered to as the Coronavirus pandemic remains ongoing.

They spoke out just hours after the Chief Constable also said that he understood the desire to protest, but that such gathering “will endanger lives”.

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Arlene Foster said the infection was the top priority of ministers in Belfast . She and Michelle O ’ Neill cancelled plans for the New York leg of their itinerary at “So we took the decision over the weekend that we felt we needed to be here for emergency meetings that take place on Monday of next week.

At Thursday’s Stormont briefing, the DUP leader said: “We are very clear, we are unified as an Executive in terms of the messaging that mass gatherings are a breach of regulation six.

“People need to know that, people need to understand that and the reason it is a breach of regulation six is we’re trying to protect them and their families and the wider community.

“I think that from now on the police will be watching very carefully what happens in relation to mass gatherings. I know that they are speaking to organisers of future events.

“We are saying very clearly today from this platform that if you want to have a peaceful protest in relation to any issue then there are other ways to do that.

“But be very clear mass gatherings such as we’ve seen in front of Belfast City Hall are a breach of the law and therefore everybody should be aware of that now and there should not be a repeat of that.”

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First Minister Arlene Foster & Deputy First Minister Michelle O ' Neill brief the NI public on the latest steps to combat the Coronavirus crisis from Stormont

Mrs Foster said other mass gatherings, including the Twelfth, have been cancelled and that people have been unable to attend funerals due to lockdown restrictions.

a group of people walking in front of a crowd: Crowds at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday © PhotopressBelfast.co.uk Crowds at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she stands “full square behind the Black Lives Matter campaign”.

However, she added: “But we have to send a message very clearly but by gathering in such big crowds we’re actually spreading the virus and actually that’s killing people so we’re asking people to protest in a different way.

“Please find another avenue to vent your feelings and your views which I know are very strongly held so please go online and please find other ways to do it.”

On Thursday morning, the Chief Constable tweeted about the demonstration against the death of George Floyd, which it is understood was attended by more than 1,000 people.

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Simon Byrne said he was “appalled at actions of the former officers from Minneapolis PD”, but that public protests at this time amid the pandemic “will endanger lives”.

When he later appeared before the Northern Ireland Policing Board, he stood over the police response.

He said: “We have been asked questions about our approach yesterday but I think we also need to ask ourselves as a society in the community, what do people want from us and what was an acceptable outcome to yesterday because it’s easy to get emotive about a response to the restrictions on governments but remembering also that was largely a peaceful protest, there were no arrests made.

“And so what would be proportionate in terms of our response to then conduct a post event investigation or indeed seek to disperse that protest when ironically it was about an outcry in relation to police use of force and brutality.

“So we had to as ever, balance, a number of competing considerations when we supported the organisers yesterday who I don’t think expected as many people to turn up.

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"Star Wars" actor John Boyega rallied crowds at a large London protest against George Floyd's death on Wednesday, telling demonstrators that "now is the time" to demand racial equality.

“We did have dialogue, we were able to facilitate something that we all cherish - that opportunity to cry out when something offends us - and we’re going to work with the organisers again in relation to the protest that is now planned for Saturday.”

He added: “Sometimes it’s getting that fine line right because what to one person is strong enforcement and being robust to other people is aggressive and oppressive, and it’s difficult to make these decisions real time.”

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said the approach to policing the next planned protest on Saturday is being developed.

“We’ll start to develop a plan tomorrow for any events that may or may not take place on Saturday,” he told the Policing Board.

“We note and share the public health concerns that arise out of those events.

“I would fully accept that through various lens policing often gets accused of an inconsistent approach and that is an inevitable consequence of what you ask us to do which is to police every set to circumstances on its own merits.”

Earlier the Public Health Agency’s head of health protection Dr Gerry Waldron warned public gatherings increased the risk to the population from Coronavirus.

“We’ve got to bear in mind that the virus hasn’t got any conscience and ... doesn’t recognise good causes,” he told the BBC.

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“Unfortunately, people that congregate in large groups, even if they’re trying to maintain social distancing, put themselves and others in that group at risk.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she is in sympathy with the cause of the demonstration but said public protests in a pandemic were “reckless and could endanger lives”.

Jolene Francis, who helped to organise the Belfast rally, defended the gathering, pointing out that many were wearing masks and using sanitisers.

“I would say that racial injustice and discrimination have been a health crisis since the beginning of time, and while I understand where the people are coming from, the government advice has also advised people to behave at their discretion, and that is also the message we pushed, to come down and act responsibly,” she told the BBC.

“If you look at the pictures, if there are groups of people that were gathered, those are people that came together.

“Towards the back of the protest there were people spread out.

“I agree at the epicentre of the protest there were people gathered together, those people were wearing masks, they were using sanitisers, those people were incredibly emotionally charged.

“These are people who feel racial discrimination and injustice every single day.”

Premier League jerseys with “Black Lives Matter” lettering .
On the first day after the Corona break, the football professionals of the English Premier League want to make a statement against racism. © Photo: Peter Byrne / PA Wire / dpa "Black Lives Matter" should appear on the jerseys of the Premier League clubs instead of the player's name. As several British media reports, it is therefore planned to exceptionally replace the player names on the jerseys with the words "Black Lives Matter".

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