Hundreds 'stand strong' alongside threatened probation officers in Belfast

Hundreds of people have attended a rally in solidarity with probation officers threatened by dissident republicans.

Probation staff were warned by the PSNI last week that the level of threat from dissidents has increased, particularly for workers living in republican areas.

The rally was held outside the Probation Board's Belfast headquarters and included probation staff as well as representatives of the trade union Nipsa. Politicians were also in attendance, including Stephen Farry, David Ford and Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party.

Local politicians joined representatives of several unions this afternoon at a protest calling for 'dissident' republican to lift their recent death threats against members of the Northern Ireland Probation Service. Pic: Alan Lewis

Addressing the crowds, Nipsa president Carmel Gates said: "Gone are the days when people with guns determine what happens in our community. Workers will stand together, we will stand strong, we will say no to division, no to threats, no to intimidation. You will not tell us where we work, how we work.

"Never again will we allow the paramilitaries in our communities to speak for us. We say to you - disband, disappear, get rid of your guns. You do not speak for us, you do not determine what we do."

Ms Gates also called for politicians to show leadership, saying: "I want to send a message to the political parties, because in a vacuum you create a situation where people who think they can run the streets, will run the streets. This is a failure of bringing communities together. So I say to the politicians, you have a job of work to do and if you're not up to it, step aside."

Fergal McCann said: "I work for the probation service and also live in an area which has been considered under threat. There is a lot of fear amongst a lot of people here. Some people are genuinely scared, they have asked for their names and address to be passed to the police for protection.

"The Probation Board has gone some way in trying to help that. As a union, we think that they need to go further but those discussions are ongoing and we hope to have a resolution going forward."

Former Stormont justice minister Mr Ford said: "I know from the role that I had as justice minister, that excellent work is done by probation staff. Any threat against them is utterly reprehensible and so I'm here to show my support for them and show that I'll do whatever I can to support them."

The Probation Board employs around 400 members of staff across Northern Ireland. Employees were notified of the threat increase at meetings on Friday.

AP


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