Protestant Churches criticise loyalist anti-refugee parade
The controversial Protestant Coalition wants to march the length of Royal Avenue and Donegall Place on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, calling for refugees to be barred from entering the north.
The group, which emerged during the loyalist flag protests, has urged all sections to join the rally "against the influx of refugees/terrorists coming to the shores of NI/Ireland".
The Ulster Unionist Party has also hit out at rally organisers saying they “are deliberately trying to conflate refugees with terrorists”.
“This is dangerously misleading and completely ignores the fact that the refugee crisis gripping Europe is about people fleeing from those jihadi terrorists known as ISIS," a spokesman said.
Organisers claim up to 500 participants will take part in the parade along Royal Avenue before a rally is held at Belfast city hall.
Both events will take place just yards from where Christmas shoppers will be gathering at the Continental market in the grounds of city hall.
The protest was arranged after 130 people were killed by Isis during a series of gun and suicide bomb attacks in Paris earlier this month and claims that some attackers used the refugee crisis to sneak into Europe.
A Belfast-based organisation which helps refugees and asylum seekers had urged Church leaders and unionist politicians to speak out about the planned parade and protest.
Justin Kouame from the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) said refugees pose no threat and that the rally should be called off.
“They are using the opportunity to blame the refugees for what happened and put forward their own agenda,” he said.
“There are refugees here for many years and nothing happened.”
He added that Protestant community leaders needed to oppose the planned events.
“They need to come out and say something, for me this is very important,” he said.
Up to 100 refugees are expected to arrive in the north before Christmas as part of a scheme organised by Stormont ministers.
In response senior Presbyterian and Church of Ireland figures spoke out on Thursday night about the need to welcome refugees.
Presbyterian Church moderator Dr Ian McNie, said “the teaching of scripture is absolutely clear - all Christians are called to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbour”.
“Out of heartfelt concern we need to pray for those living in troubled parts of our world and for those fleeing conflict,” he said.
“And when such people come among us, they need to be welcomed with a generosity of spirit that reflects the love that we ourselves have come to know in Jesus Christ.
“To do anything else dishonours the name of our Lord and Saviour.”
Rev Adrian Dorrian, chair of the Church of Ireland’s Church and Society Commission, said the planned parade and rally is “not helpful” adding “nor does it resonate with the Christian understanding that each member of the human race is made in the image and likeness of God”.
“One of the core principles held to be true by the founding fathers of what would become Protestantism across the world is an understanding of grace - giving with no expectation of reward.”
A post on the Protestant Coalition Facebook page confirmed that it had met the Parades Commission earlier this week.
Belfast anti-Fascists have said they will hold a counter-demonstration during the rally.
Earlier this year the Protestant Coalition called off a similar protest in Belfast.