The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said it is treating as a hate crime threatening graffiti directed at Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, which was written on a wall in Belfast over the weekend.
The message scrawled on a wall in the Belvoir area of south Belfast has since been painted over.
“Police are treating a report of criminal damage at Drumart Square in Belvoir Estate as a hate crime,” said the PSNI in a statement on Saturday.
The graffiti has been widely condemned. First Minster Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have both spoken out against the warning to Mr Varadkar to not cross the Irish Border.
It is the latest of a number of similar incidents in Belfast amid anger among some at the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit agreement, with a raft of new checks on goods arriving at ports from Britain introduced at the start of 2021.
A recent piece of graffiti in east Belfast called for the resignation of Mrs Foster over the Irish Sea border.
Mrs Foster tweeted: “Violence or the threat of violence has no place in democracy. I condemn those behind this.
“The NI Protocol needs replaced but violence or its threat will not achieve the change Northern Ireland needs.”
Ms O’Neill tweeted: “Shocked at the disgusting graffiti targeting Leo Varadkar which I condemn, as will the majority of people across the community.
“This is a hate crime motivated by prejudice. It’s also criminal damage and anyone with information should contact police who must investigate.”
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald condemned what she called a “vile, shameful” attack on the Tánaiste. “Threats and intimidation driven by sectarianism and racism must be faced down by all of us. Together,” she tweeted.
South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said she had been contacted by residents who were “nauseated” by it.
“These were sickening words that look like they were borrowed from the Ku Klux Klan,” the SDLP representative told the PA news agency.
“It’s hate crime, incitement to violence and a dangerous escalation of careless language in recent weeks.
“We have to get serious about treating the elements behind rhetoric and actions like this as the threat to society that they are.
“This is a very challenging time politically and it needs all political leaders to be crystal clear that relighting old fires serves no one.
“These views aren’t widespread in Belvoir or elsewhere in South Belfast. PSNI are investigating and I hope anyone with information will pass it on.”
The PSNI has asked anyone with any information is asked to call officers at Lisburn Road on the non-emergency number 101 quoting reference number 450 30/01/21, or to submit a report online using thenon-emergency reporting form.
Members of the public with information can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. – Additional reporting: PA