Loyalist vigilantes say ‘if PSNI fail us then we will police ourselves’ amid tensions in Moygashel / Dungannon

Loyalists have claimed they will have “no choice but to police their own area” if they feel let down by the PSNI when it comes to recent reports of anti-social behaviour in south-east Tyrone.

Saturday, 28th August 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Sunday, 29th August 2021, 4:57 pm
Images of balaclava-clad loyalists on patrol

The PSNI in turn warned them that “any individual or group against taking the law into their own hands” faces police action themselves.

The whole issue came to the fore during the week, when there were reports in the press of masked loyalists roaming the Moygashel area – a small unionist-dominated settlement on the southern edge of Dungannon.

Here’s how it began.

On August 17, the PSNI said “a verbal altercation occurred between two groups in the area” which included stones being thrown, with a car damaged as a result.

Loyalists have given a somewhat different account.

They say that the blame lies with a gang of youths (some of them foreign nationals) who had been misbehaving in the area for some weeks, and that on August 17 it was members of this gang who were the aggressors, with local loyalists seeking to protect the neighbourhood – in other words, it was not simply an altercation between two gangs.

A Facebook page called ‘Loyalist Moygashel/Dungannon’ said the August 17 incident had consisted of “around 20 youths made up of foreign nationals and other criminals [who had] travelled from the nationalist end of the town to the gates of Dungannon Park... shouting threats whilst armed with lengths of timber and at least one brandishing a knife”.

Then on August 21, this Facebook page posted up images of masked loyalists on patrol, saying this was in response to “recent threatening behaviour by foreign gangs in Dungannon Park”.

It added that when it came to anti-social behaviour in the region, “it’s no secret that many residents have been branded ‘racist’ for pointing out the culprits”.

This image of balaclava-wearing loyalists stalking the streets then hit the headlines this week, with politicial figures denouncing the vigilantes and saying that racism needs to be confronted.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The News Letter sought to find out more about what had happened in the run-up to August 17, but the ‘Loyalist Moygashel/Dungannon’ Facebook page was taken down off the web.

However, the operators of another similar Facebook page – ‘the Moygashel Bonfire Association’ – told much the same story, saying that prior to August 17 a gang including foreign nationals had “chased three youths – two girls and one boy – from the Dungannon area with sticks” and that “this crowd have been intimidating locals on and off for weeks”.

The operator of the ‘Loyalist Moygashel/Dungannon’ says they “have no direct connection to the guys on patrol – although as we are all part of the one community we can easily get an insight into the general feeling in the village”.

As to whether more such vigilante action will take place, the operator of the Facebook page told the News Letter: “After speaking with local loyalists, below is the response we received:

“Local loyalists will be rigorously monitoring the situation, and any further loyalist action will be solely to maintain the safety of the residents of Moygashel.

“If the PSNI fail to thwart the activities of this foreign gang then local loyalists will have no choice but to police their own area as they see fit.”

ACCOUNT IS PUT TO THE POLICE:

The loyalists’ account of events, and their pledge of further vigilantism, were put to the PSNI.

It replied that “enquiries are continuing” into the whole affair, and asked anyone with any information to contact them on 101 (quoting ‘2043 17/08/21’).

In response to the prospect of more vigilante patrols, police said: “The PSNI does not tolerate any type of vigilante activity and we would caution any individual or group against taking the law into their own hands.

“The PSNI is responsible for law enforcement in Northern Ireland – we are here to protect everyone and we are proud to serve them.

“We will continue to prioritise the issues that matter most to our communities and would appeal to the community to continue to support us in our efforts to keep the area safe for everyone.

“If you have information about any sort of crime in your area please contact the non-emergency number 101.

“Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”

‘NO FOREIGN NATIONALS MAY APPLY’ IN MOYGASHEL:

Dungannon’s population has changed notably in recent decades.

It it understood to have Northern Ireland’s highest rates of foreign-born residents (that is, those from outside the UK and Ireland), many of whom are drawn from eastern Europe, and East Timor – a small country in south Asia with a bloody recent history.

The most recent available census results (from 2011) break down foreign nationals by the 26 old council areas in Northern Ireland.

They list results for the broad working-age population, which it gives as between ages 16 and 74.

Within those figures, Dungannon had 4,874 such foreign-born residents (11.8% of its working-age population).

That compares with 15,955 in Belfast (7.6%) and 5,491 in Craigavon (8.1%) – the other major immigration centres in the Province.

Moygashel has also been in the news over other racially-linked incidents.

For instance, in 2014 a story circulated in the press that signs had been put up in the area saying: “Attention landlords: leasing properties to foreign nationals will not be tolerated.”

And earlier this year, a property listing published on Gumtree reportedly included the caveat “no foreign nationals may apply”.

More from the News Letter:

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