SF lord mayor, PSNI officers hurt in attack by loyalist protesters
Trouble blamed by DUP on republican vote to restrict flying of Union flag at city hall
The PSNI is attempting to identify attackers who assaulted nine of their officers who were hurt while protecting Belfast’s Sinn Féin lord mayor from a loyalist crowd in the Shankill area of the city.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was attending Woodvale Park yesterday for a tree-planting ceremony following a £2 million investment in the area by the city council and the Stormont Department of Social Development.
However, despite PSNI advice that serious trouble was not expected, a hostile crowd gathered and some attempted to attack the lord mayor.
Mr Ó Muilleoir was treated briefly in hospital and then continued with his scheduled duties. His official car was also damaged. The event was cancelled.
DUP Assembly member William Humphrey said that the protest was directly related to Mr Ó Muilleoir’s support for the vote at city hall last November to restrict the flying of the union flag.
“For the lord mayor to think he can come here and carry out an opening, when he and his party have been involved in a campaign against the culture of the unionist community – particularly the Orange culture – is simply not real,” Mr Humphrey said.
“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. The lord mayor’s party, the SDLP and Alliance came together to do that.
“This should have been a day of celebration for a £2 million investment by the council and the Department of Social Development and quite honestly the lord mayor needs to understand he cannot make statements and go around doing press interviews calling for our flag to be removed, remove the flag, and then when he has a chain around his neck as lord mayor of this city, expect people to welcome him as first citizen. That’s not how it works in the real world.”
PSNI Chief Insp Andy Freeburn said the attack on Mr Ó Muilleoir was an “appalling incident”.
“This should have been a positive day about the opening of a children’s play park in the area, but instead was marred by disorder which has left a number of our community officers injured.”
Tensions locally have been inflamed following the Parades Commission decision to restrict a July 12th Orange march past the Ardoyne area, a decision which helped provoke five nights of rioting in areas across the city.
One loyalist protester told UTV last night: “We say there is no shared space. We can’t go where we want to go, so why is he able to come here and do whatever he wants?”
The lord mayor later thanked the police officers who had been hurt while trying to protect him and insisted that protesters “would not drag Belfast back” and that there would be no “no-go areas”.
“As lord mayor for all, I promised to visit every part of Belfast if invited,” he said.
“This should have been a positive day about the opening of a children’s play park in the area, but instead was marred by disorder which has left a number of our community officers injured,” he said.
Stormont Minister for Justice David Ford condemned the trouble, saying: “Such violence against elected representatives and the police must be condemned.”