Scots ex-BNP chief seen fuelling Union flag riots in Belfast
Daily Record | Wednesday, 9 January 2013 | Click here for original article
JIM DOWSON has been a prominent presence at protests and posted comments on a Facebook page set up by a faction called The New Loyalists after weekend violence.
A RIGHT-wing Scots extremist is in the thick of the Northern Ireland flag riots, the Record can reveal.
Jim Dowson has been seen at the disturbances in Belfast in which thousands of people have clashed with police on the streets.
The loyalist riots started a month ago after Belfast City Council’s decision to restrict the flying of the union flag at city hall.
Notorious former BNP chief Dowson has been accused of adding fuel to the fire and has been a prominent presence at protests over the past few days.
A weekend meeting of politicians aimed at ending the violence was followed by a demo in which a crowd of more than 1000 people clashed with police, throwing petrol bombs, fireworks and other missiles.Burning debris on the lower Newtownards road as police confront Loyalist protesters at Belfast City Hall
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
Dowson was at the scene and afterwards posted comments on a Facebook page set up by a faction called The New Loyalists, and claimed the group were attacked by republicans.
The 48-year-old wrote: “Is it any wonder our youth retaliate and fight back? We are not thugs and it is every man’s right to defend himself, his people and his area. No surrender!”
Dowson, originally from Airdrie, has convictions, including weapon possession, breach of the peace and criminal damage. He now lives on the outskirts of Belfast and has close links with loyalist groups in the city.
Previously, Dowson was the public face of Life League, who published online details of people who they said encouraged abortions.
He formed the hardline group in 1999 after meetings with Ireland’s notorious Youth Defence, who stormed buildings in Dublin in their crusade against a woman’s right to choose.
Dowson portrayed himself as a staunch Christian and even claimed to be a preacher in his own church.
Last October, he addressed a protest rally at the opening of the first private abortion clinic in Belfast.
Dowson was second in command of the BNP before quitting in 2010 over an accusation that he groped a blonde party activist.
He went on to found the political party Britain First last year and it is claimed he is using the Belfast troubles to enlist new members for the far right-wing group.
Nick Lowles, co-ordinator of the Hope Not Hate campaign, said: “I’ve been watching footage of the rioting in Belfast over the past few nights and it makes for worrying viewing.
“One name that crops up time and time again is Jim Dowson, the former BNP fundraiser, religious zealot and now leader of the tiny far right group, Britain First.
“Dowson appears keen to pour fuel on the Belfast fires, attempting to stir up trouble behind the flag protests.
“This is classic Dowson methodology. He believes the flurry of publicity can only be good fortune for his political party and, more importantly, his bank balance.”
The rioters have been organising protests throughout Belfast largely through social media, and chaos has ensued throughout the city.
Pleas for calm from leaders of paramilitary groups, including the UDA and UVF, have been ignored.
Dowson insists claims that he is stirring up the trouble are “absolute garbage”.
He added: “When the first huge protest began back in December, I was the only person there with a megaphone advocating a calm and peaceful protest.
“It was the same on Monday night when there were between 1000 and 1500 people protesting outside the Belfast City Hall.
“I’m a father and grandfather and I don’t need to be standing in between riot police and protesters. But someone has got to step up and I’ve been trying to bring calm, guidance and influence because it’s all very disorganised on the streets.
“And I know how easy it can be for protests like these to go pear-shaped.”
Northern Ireland police said yesterday that three officers were injured in a fifth straight night of street clashes with extremists in the Belfast City flag row.
Hundreds of loyalists staged a largely peaceful protest at Belfast City Hall, but disorder erupted as 250 demonstrators from east Belfast returned from the city centre at the republican Short Strand.
The demonstration at Belfast City Hall came as the council met for the first time since their decision to limit the flying of the Union Flag.Loyalist protesters confront police at Belfast City Hall
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
Why did the protests start?
Last month Belfast City Council voted to only fly the Union flag at city hall on designated days.
Nationalist parties Sinn Fein and the SDLP had wanted the flag taken down altogether, while the Unionist DUP, UUP and PUP had wanted it flown all year round.
The stalemate was ended on a compromise brokered by the Alliance Party.
But a protest outside the building turned violent after the motion was passed. There was also unrest in east Belfast.
Weeks of protests followed, with many turning violent.
Today is the first designated day the flag will fly.
Why has it caused so much trouble?
Loyalists believe the Union flag is an essential expression of their culture.
Many view the decision not to fly it as part of a wider campaign by nationalists to dilute the British identity of Northern Ireland.
They say the flag has flown from the city hall for decades and should be left alone.
However, the length and intensity of the protests has surprised most observers.
It was expected Christmas would mark an end to the worst of the trouble.
But protests have increased in ferocity this week, with violence every night.
Are paramilitaries involved?
Northern Ireland chief constable Matt Baggott says Ulster Volunteer Force members have orchestrated the violence in east Belfast.
Baggott stressed there was no evidence that the organisation’s leadership endorsed their actions but warned it must stop.
Previously, assistant chief constable Will Kerr had said members of the Ulster Defence Association and UVF had been involved in violence around flag protests.
Politicians from all sides have received death threats. The latest was against SDLP Assembly member for Mid Ulster Patsy McGlone.
A parcel with a sympathy card referring to Mr McGlone and a bullet were intercepted at a postal sorting office.