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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 19:07 GMT
Protesters pelt minister with eggs

RUC officers shield the Agriculture Minister


Loyalist protesters who pelted the new Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers with eggs during a public engagement have been condemned by senior political figures in Northern Ireland.

The attack occurred on Friday as the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) assemblywoman arrived in the Co Down fishing port of Portavogie to present European awards to locals.

A mob of up to 20 men carrying banners and waving union jacks jeered the minister as she toured the village.

Ms Rodgers said the attack appeared to be planned in advance of her visit.

Deputy First Minister and party colleague Seamus Mallon met with the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, to discuss the treatment of the agriculture minister.

Mr Mallon said it was wrong and undemocratic for protesters to use violence, or the threat of violence, as the means of advancing their protest.


Seamus Mallon: Attack is unacceptable
"We have recently put in place an inclusive Executive which represents all shades of political opinion," he said.

"As we make political progress, there can be no place for those who wish to return us to the past."

After the meeting, the Chief Constable made it clear he would take all "possible steps" to ensure minister could go about their official business without interference.

Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson deplored the incident and described it as a "disgraceful attack".

He said it was quite wrong that a democratically elected representative should attacked when carrying out government duties.

"This was the work of an anti-democratic element - the same element who say they champion the cause of security but so often are seen to breach it.

"The attack on Brid was an attack on the democratic wishes of the vast majority of the Northern Ireland people."

Mr Mandelson also said he was confident the attack would not deter the newly appointed ministers in the new government of Northern Ireland from carrying out their duties.

Consistent

The attack on the agriculture minister comes at the end of a week marked by protests by schoolchildren against the appointment of Martin McGuinness in the education portfolio.

Members of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party have denied allegations they orchestrated the protests.

Meanwhile, the DUP leader Ian Paisley chaired the first meeting of the Agriculture Committee at which party members sat alongside Sinn Fein members.

He said afterwards that this was consistent with party policy even though DUP ministers are refusing to participate in Executive meetings citing the involvement of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun.

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See also:
09 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Church condemns school protests
07 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Teachers' union warns of classroom 'anarchy'
10 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
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