Northern Ireland

Dissidents force Derry DPP meeting to be abandoned

Guildhall, Derry
Image caption The meeting in the Guildhall was abandoned after fifteen minutes

A dissident republican has said he makes "no apologies" for the disruption of a District Policing Partnership meeting in Londonderry on Wednesday.

The meeting in the Guildhall had to be abandoned after protestors blew horns and chanted slogans.

Community worker Maureen Collins said the noise meant the chairman had no alternative but to stop proceedings.

However, Gary Donnelly of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement defended the protest.

"It was disruptive. The aim was to disrupt what we see as a charade and I think in those terms it was very effective. We have no apology to make in any shape or fashion," he said.

Ms Collins said that the DUP chairman Joe Miller made several attempts to begin the meeting.

"Every time he got up to speak they chanted and blew whistles," said Ms Collins.

"The protestors came up the stairs and into the hall and filled the back of the hall, and the corridor outside as well.

"The chair invited them to make a statement, and they didn't refuse verbally, they just continued to shout and chant and blow whistles.

"After ten to fifteen minutes it was decided the meeting would be abandoned.

"I'm really annoyed, because I was there with older people from across the community, and it was a great opportunity for them to put questions and get answers from the PSNI.

"Everybody has a right to protest, but they also have to be held accountable."

'Anti-community'

The chair of the meeting, Joe Miller from the DUP, said the protest showed dissident republicans "don't have any support worth talking about".

"They wanted to disrupt this meeting and they wanted to get publicity, well there's about 100,000 people living in this city and they could muster 35."

Sinn Fein councillor Maeve McLaughlin, who was also at the meeting, said the protestors' behavour was "anti-community".

"If people genuinely have an issue with the PSNI, then standing and shouting down a meeting that is themed to deal with the most vulnerable and isolated in our community is not the way to deal with it.

"That to me is not going to advance any of our issues in terms of holding the PSNI to account, and it's certainly not going to create a better community for any of us."

The Acting Chairman of the Policing Board, Brian Rea, said the disruption was "an attack on the democratic process".

"This particular meeting was focusing on home safety advice for older people and they were denied this important opportunity.

"No group has the right to prevent people from attending such meetings and being able to conduct business in a dignified manner free from fear and intimidation.

"I would encourage those who caused this disruption, which resulted in the meeting being abandoned, to instead take the opportunity to contribute to the debate."

'Regrettable'

In a statement, the PSNI said DPP meetings are an important forum for police to engage with the local community and for performance to be monitored.

"While everyone has the right to give voice to their concerns the actions of the protestors were regrettable.

"We would encourage anybody who wants to raise legitimate issues to do so in a mature and positive manner."

The meeting is to be rescheduled.

This is not the first time protests by dissident republicans have disrupted DPP meetings.

Last year several meetings were interrupted and one had to be called off after protestors threw stink bombs, blew whistles and chanted anti-police slogans.

One hotel in Derry later refused to host such meetings out of concern for the safety of staff and guests.

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