A protest at Stormont by around 300 people led to several arrests and notices being issued by the police.
Two women were forcibly thrown to the ground this afternoon by PSNI officers at a peaceful gathering in the grounds of Stormont writes Laura Barr.
A crowd of around 300 people, young and old exercised their right to protest against the latest restrictions implemented by NI Executive earlier this week.
PSNI reminded those in attendance to practice social distancing and remain in their bubble groups of 15 people.
PSNI made it clear at the start of the peaceful protest that they would “not be handing out fines today to those who kept within the guidelines”.
Despite this, however, a number of County Down natives who were in attendance said there was an “uncomfortable heavy police presence” and “absolutely no need for police to rough handle both women and men”.
One man told Down News that he felt society was now “under martial law” and claimed that the restrictions were not “only a violation of our human rights, but also a violation of international law.”
Meanwhile Patrick McCamley and his son also called Patrick had travelled from Newry to take a stance at Stormont this afternoon.
Patrick Snr told Down News that he felt the media have been putting out a false narrative since March.
“Alternative voices are not being heard or reported on”, he said, and added: “Highly intelligent people such as Professor Delores Cahill for instance but none of what she is saying is getting aired on mainstream media.
“They are simply refusing to debate with these people and let them have their say and let people make an informed decision after hearing both sides of the argument.”
Patrick Junior explained that health professionals are “regurgitating” the same information and while there are alternative voices, we would never know it listening to mainstream media.
“This is why a lot of people think the way we think and why me and my dad are here today.
“There is absolutely no debate happening.
“I have two daughters who are both school age and the message that they are receiving from school is of course conflicting with what they’re being told at home.
“So, it’s confusing for children and very hard to explain it to them without frightening them.
“It is a very difficult time especially if you do have children, when you think the way we think, and you can see what’s coming down the line it is very worrying.”
A Hilltown businesswoman who had travelled down today with friends from a similar business background in the gym sector said they were felt compelled to come and “stand up” as they are “absolutely sick of the regulations”.
The mother said she was forced to close her business back in March and said: “For what?”
She added: “I actually closed the business a few weeks before lockdown because I was fully absorbed into all of this and I felt very frightened by the messages the government and media were putting out there.
“I was fearful for my customers and all of their families but after two to three weeks I started clicking on and doing a lot of independent research and questioning the narrative.
“My wee boy is only primary one and this has had such an impact on him, he is so fearful of people wearing masks.”
Speakers this afternoon included an ex-PSNI officer, a concerned mother and a health professional.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “The numbers in attendance and the lack of social distancing in the crowd were in stark contrast with assurances given to police by the organisers in the days leading up to the event.
“Police engaged with the organisers before and during the protest to encourage them to disperse and comply with the Health Protection Regulations.
“Unfortunately, both the organisers and participants did not cooperate with these requests and continued in breach of the regulations.
“Officers therefore moved to enforce the regulations resulting in the issue of fixed penalty notices and a number of arrests. We will also conduct follow up enquiries to seek to identify others who may have committed offences.”