Belfast Mayor kicked by loyalists during Woodvale walkabout
Belfast Mayor kicked by loyalists during Woodvale walkabout


A loyalist protest turned violent this week when Sinn Fein’s Mayor of Belfast, Mairtin Muilleoir, attended the re-opening of a park.

Although a strong advocate of Sinn Fein’s program of ‘unionist outreach’, O Muilleoir was set upon by loyalist protestors and pushed, shoved and kicked as he walked through the park surrounded by a phalanx of PSNI police.

Sectarian abuse was hurled as young children attending the Belfast parks’ ‘fun day’ looked on.

Mr O Muilleoir received treatment for bruising in hospital later, but insisted that he would not be deflected from his determination to attend events wherever in Belfast he is invited.

He declared there would be “no no-go areas” in his year as Mayor. He also praised the police team who protected him.

“There were a small minority of wreckers which hijacked the event and of course it turned violent,” he said.

“I want to commend the police, they took a lot of blows, I took some blows.

“I think as first citizen you have to travel this entire city if you want to represent all the people. There can’t be any no-go areas in Belfast in 2013.”

Earlier in the day the mayor had attended another ‘fun day’ opening in Dunville Park in nationalist west Belfast, where he was joined by DUP assembly member Nelson McCausland and DUP councillor Gareth Robinson. That event passed off without incident, a contrast later underlined by Sinn Fein officials.

The Mayor attended the Woodvale event despite heavy rioting in the area last month over the rerouting of an Orange Order parade away from Ardoyne in north Belfast, and amid continuing protests at the Woodvale interface. Loyalists have also blamed the Mayor for the controversial decision last year to reduce the flying of the British Union flag over City Hall, a move which ignited months of disturbances, illegal parades and roadblocks.

Mr O Muilleoir said that he had been assured by the PSNI that the visit could take place in safety. However, that statement only provoked further controversy. Unionists insisted he had provocatively decided to go ahead with the visit despite being warned of the strong opposition of local residents.

The DUP said they had warned the council in a letter weeks ago that it would be “unwise” for O Muilleoir to attend the event in the area due to the level of anger in the community. The council denied any knowledge of the letter, which the DUP said had been signed by five party representatives.

There were also suggestions that Mr O Muilleoir had deliberately sought out the confrontation to boost his image among republicans. Last week, he controversially admitted that he had decided to retain some of the royal trappings of his office, including the ‘Lord’ prefix to his title.

William Humphrey, DUP representative for North Belfast, said the scenes at Woodvale were “absolutely preventable”.

“We asked that the deputy lord mayor or the high sheriff carry out this duty here today,” he said. “There is real anger, frustration. It started when the flag was removed.”

But Sinn Fein castigated unionist politicians for failing to condemn the violence. A statement subsequently issued by the leaders of the main two unionist parties -- seeking to blame residents of the nationalist Short Strand for loyalist rioting in east Belfast last month -- added to their dismay.

“Two days on from the disgraceful assault on the Belfast Mayor by a unionist mob, neither [DUP leader] Peter Robinson nor [UUP leader] Mike Nesbitt have managed to issue one word of condemnation over the incident in Woodvale,” Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey said.

“Indeed the initial response of the DUP was to seek to justify the attack.

“In any other society the failure of the First Minister to make any public comment on an attack on the First Citizen would simply be unacceptable.

“Likewise his failure to make any public comment on the charging by the PSNI of his own party colleague Ruth Patterson for a sectarian rant on Facebook is equally noticeable.

“Despite Peter Robinson going AWOL on these important issues he finds the time to collude with his junior partner Mike Nesbitt to try and spin the truth about the Orange Order antics in East Belfast on July 12th.

“Time and again the leaders of political unionism fail when it comes to giving proper and progressive leadership.”

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