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'disturbing' image Anger after image of child wearing a balaclava at Belfast anti-protocol protest circulates online

A Sinn Fein banner was also burnt during the protest

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It appears there was an adult hand on the shoulder of the child who was pictured wearing the balaclava

It appears there was an adult hand on the shoulder of the child who was pictured wearing the balaclava

It appears there was an adult hand on the shoulder of the child who was pictured wearing the balaclava

An image has appeared on a social media account of West Belfast MP Paul Maskey appearing to show a man with a young child wearing a balaclava at last night's anti-protocol protest in west Belfast.

A man who has his hand on the shoulder of the child is out of shot and it is not clear if he was wearing a balaclava as well.

The image has been met with anger among social media users, who have branded the alleged actions of the man who is resting his arm on the shoulder of the child as "part of the problem" and "disgraceful".

The police estimated around 3,000 people took to the streets in the protest which left Woodvale Park shortly after 7pm last night before making its way towards the Shankill Leisure Centre where protesters dispersed.

At one stage a large ‘United Ireland’ banner which had been funded by Sinn Fein was burnt.

Bands also joined the parade and did not give the Parades Commission notification beforehand.

When the image of the child appeared on Twitter one user wrote: ‘What an example to set for your kids’.

Another described the child being allowed to wear a balaclava as ‘grooming’.

One Twitter user argued the protestors were wearing balaclavas to hide their identities from the police.

They wrote: ‘I believe they are wearing them to hide their identity. They are taking part in an illegal parade and could get charged. I also believe there’s an element of intimidation about it. Why the child is wearing a balaclava, I have no idea.’

In a statement posted on the Sinn Fein website, Maskey said the appearance of those he described as ‘masked men’ was ‘sinister’ and ‘disturbing’.

Speaking of the burning of the Sinn Fein banner, he said: ‘Videos and images have been widely shared on social media showing masked men marching, carrying containers of petrol and preparing to destroy a stolen Sinn Féin banner.

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‘They then set it alight against an interface fence, just yards from the homes of nationalists, in a deliberate attempt to provoke and raise tensions.’

He added: ‘Hooded men on our streets or calls to provoke instability have no place in our society and those in positions of leadership need to make that clear.’

A PSNI spokesperson said: “An evidence-gathering operation was in place. Police issued a number of warnings and we will now review all the footage gathered and consider any suspected breaches of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 and offences in respect of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations NI 2021."

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