North Belfast MP John Finucane says he will not be intimidated after he was asked to leave a protest by alleged loyalist paramilitary commander Winston ‘Winkie’ Irvine.
The Sinn Féin representative attended a protest over an illegal dump by residents at an industrial estate on the Crumlin Road on Monday when he was confronted by Irvine.
He made clear his role was as MP for the area and to pass on details about progress on the issue to concerned residents. However TV cameras and photographers captured the moment he was approached by Irvine and told he was not welcome.
During an exchange Mr Irvine can be heard asking the MP: “Do you think this is a wise idea? Come on now.” The loyalist suggested his presence was a provocation to those present, and later hit out at Mr Finucane for arriving “unannounced”.
The encounter recalled an incident in 2014 when former Sinn Fein Mayor and publisher Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was attacked by loyalists after attending an event in the Woodvale area. In an opinion piece this week, his North Belfast News paper described the confrontation as “scandalous and flagrant intimidation” and criticised unionist politicians for failing to condemn it.
“When a man elected by and responsible to no-one tells a Member of Parliament to get off a busy road that he believes himself to have jurisdiction over, something is very wrong with the exercise of democratic authority in this city,” the paper said.
Incidents of sectarian intimidation and territory-marking have become more frequent in north Belfast in recent months, with a catalogue of tense and threatening confrontations in the Grove Park area.
Mr Finucane said he left earlier than he had intended as he didn’t want to distract from the issue of the illegal dump, but he said Irvine’s approach was a “nonsense”.
“I made it clear whether in the election last year or as mayor that I would be representing everybody in the city and now in this case everyone in north Belfast,” he said.
“If that causes other people an issue then that’s a matter for them. It’s not something I’m going to allow to distract me and I think it says more about a minority.”