EXCLUSIVE: LOYALISTS are planning massive counter demonstrations against Sinn Fein protests over the arrest of one-time IRA enforcer Padraic Wilson on membership charges.
Sinn Fein chiefs are organising rallies north and south of the border to voice their objection to the 53-year-old’s charging last week linked to the murder of Robert McCartney nearly eight years ago.
Now the Belfast Daily can reveal that loyalists have held meetings within the last 24 hours to forge an alliance against Sinn Fein inspired rallies.
We have learnt that senior UVF figures plan to attend meets to discuss how to mobilise supporters onto the streets.
A senior loyalist source told the Belfast Daily: “Wherever Sinn Fein plan protests, loyalists will be there also holding counter rallies.
“The police won’t be able to keep a lid on this. The main groups are in Belfast and Portadown. Supporters in Scotland have also said they will back the counter rallies.
“This has the potential to cause major street trouble. Loyalists are saying Gerry Kelly should stand down from the Policiing Board immediately.
“Sinn Fein are totally out of order and loyalists will not stand for this any longer.
“The leadership of the UVF has been in touch to say they will attend meetings and also support the street protests.
“This is going to be a major headache for Matt Baggott. If he bends the knee to Sinn Fein over this Wilson case then he will have to resign. His position will be totally untenable.”
The source added that the protest will be taken to the steps of Stormont/
“We will be demanding that the DUP no longer share power with Sinn Fein.
“They should bring down the Executive to show they will have no more truck with Sinn Fein.
“If they don’t they will get a bloody nose come the next elections.”
Yesterday, Sinn Fein held an illegal protest at PSNI headquarters in east Belfast over Padraic Wilson.
Said the loyalist source: “Where is the Parades Commission on this? Where is Sinn Fein’s 11/1 form from the Parades Commission?
“This protest was held on Matt Baggott’s front door step and not a single arrest was made. He should go now back to England because he is not wanted here anymore.”
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly was surrounded by several hundred supporters as he demanded the immediate release of Wilson, labelling the charges against him “bizarre”.
“We believe that this arrest is politically motivated, that it comes from within the Serious Crime department of the PSNI and it is, frankly, a small minority still within the PSNI who are against new beginnings to policing and who are using things like this to put it into crisis,” said the former Old Bailey bomber.
Mr Kelly said the allegations were driven by an “old agenda within the PSNI”. He said he would be raising the issue with the Policing Board.
“They aren’t trying to find answers to long-running questions,” he said.
He added: “This is not about bringing the killers of Robert McCartney to justice, it’s quite the opposite. It is targeting people who wish to help.
“Police have failed to bring forward someone for the killing of Robert McCartney to justice.”
During a press conference with fellow party members Catriona Ruane and Alex Maskey, the north Belfast MLA called on the Chief Constable Matt Baggott to review what was happening within the Serious Crime Unit.
“Throughout the mid 90s and up until his release in 2000, Pádraic Wilson played a pivotal role in building support among prisoners for the peace process,” said Mr Kelly.
“Since his release he has continued to play a central role in supporting and developing the political process. His arrest represents a very serious challenge to the political process.”
However, the party as yet has stopped short of withdrawing from the Northern Ireland Policing Board or local district policing partnerships in protest at his arrest.
“This has gone through republicanism like a bushfire,” he said.
“I can tell you frankly that many, many people have been in touch, from other colleagues, very angry about the idea that someone who was crucial to bringing people along in the peace process and political process is now behind bars where he should not be.”
However, the SDLP’s west Belfast MLA Alex Attwood accused Sinn Fein of trying to influence the justice system.
“In previous years, Sinn Fein complained of ‘political influence’ over the courts and of ‘political policing’,” he said.
“Today, in a brazen public way, Sinn Fein are at the same. People campaigned, worked and struggled to change ‘the old order of things’, for now Sinn Fein to recreate it, a modern version of the failed past, a renewed attempt to pressure politically the due process of law.”
The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said plans for a protest were “unacceptable”.
“It is hard to imagine a situation anywhere else in the western world where a party of government would take to the streets to demand the release of someone accused of serious terrorist offences,” he said.
“Not only that but Wilson continues to hold a senior post within the party.”
Wilson was at one time the leader of IRA prisoners in the Maze Prison in the late 1990s. He is Sinn Fein’s director of international affairs.
He has been charged with IRA membership and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA, which he denies.
Mr McCartney, 33, was stabbed to death outside Magennis’s bar in Belfast.
Wilson is also facing further IRA membership charges dating back more than a decade ago.
He and four others, including the IRA’S former ‘OC’ in Belfast, Seamus ‘Niker Max’ Finucane, are to face trial on belonging to a proscribed organisation and organising a meeting in support of the IRA.