A GROUP of Republicans dressed as crocodiles waving rainbow flags have held a protest outside the office of Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster in Enniskillen.
Members of Young Sinn Fein and other figures within the party in Fermanagh were protesting in what a statement said was “the continued denial of rights” while Mrs. Foster accused the group of the same thing, saying her constituents were denied access to her advice centre as a result.
The group said they were protesting after Mrs. Foster claimed in a radio interview that a bid to fly a Pride flag at a Council building was a republican rouse to remove the Union flag.
“We should have respect for each other but not if it’s going to be used as a rouse to take down the national flag,” she told Radio Ulster last week.
In a statement, Ógra Shinn Féin said: “Last Wednesday the former First Minister made comments on Good Morning Ulster in relation to flying the Pride flag on ABC Council buildings which were absolutely bizarre. As well as that, she commented that an Irish Language Act was non negotiable.
“Members of Ógra Shinn Féin organised a protest the outside the DUP leader’s office on Wednesday afternoon in opposition to the continued denial of rights.”
The spokesperson explained that both marriage equality and language rights “are enjoyed by everyone else on these islands and in Britain.”
“There must be an end to the disgraceful denial of rights. We are all equal here and the days when we are expected to put up with inequality are long gone,” said the spokesperson.
In a statement, Mrs. Foster said the demonstration was billed as a protest to “enforce a rights based agenda.”
“However, what the participants achieved was the denial of rights for my constituents to access advice and support. We run a full time and busy advice service, which clearly isn’t the case for the advice centre of the political party who orchestrated this protest.”
Mrs. Foster added: “On a daily basis our office is used by vulnerable and needy constituents who have been deeply angered and frustrated by this incident.
“Intimidation of my staff and the physical denial of access to my advice centre is unacceptable. Intimidation and harassment failed to deter my work in the past, and it has failed again this time.”
Two months ago Mrs. Foster urged members of the LGBT community to respect her right to oppose same-sex marriage as she became the first DUP leader to attend one of their events.
Mrs. Foster said she did not define anyone by their sexuality as she spoke at the PinkNews reception at Stormont.
The DUP continues to be heavily criticised by LGBT activists for past derogatory comments about gay people and its ongoing resistance to same sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
“Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I don’t value the LGBT community,” Mrs. Foster said.
“It is not a zero-sum game. All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected if not agreed with.”
A majority of MLAs backed the introduction of same-sex marriage the last time it was debated on the floor of the Assembly before the institutions collapsed almost 18 months ago, but the use of the petition of concern (PoC) by the DUP rendered that irrelevant.
The petition, which is a peace process construct designed to protect minority views in a post-conflict society, means a proposal can only be passed in the Assembly if a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalist MLAs support it, rather than a straightforward majority head count.
While the DUP does not have the electoral strength to deploy a petition on its own – 30 MLA signatures are required – it could join forces with other social conservative members to trigger one again if powersharing is restored.