Incendiary anti-Finucane banners mounted in Belfast

Police start inquiries to establish if slogans constitute ‘hate incident or hate crimes’

Sinn Féin candidate for North Belfast John Finucane is standing for election in what will be a closely fought battle against DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. File photograph: PA

Sinn Féin candidate for North Belfast John Finucane is standing for election in what will be a closely fought battle against DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. File photograph: PA

 

The police in Northern Ireland are investigating whether banners in Belfast attacking the Sinn Féin election candidate John Finucane and his family constitute a criminal offence.

A number of banners bearing the slogan “The real Finucane family” and making several allegations about Mr Finucane and his relatives have been erected in North Belfast.

On Monday police were in attendance as a banner was removed in the Tiger’s Bay area of the city.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Supt Melanie Jones said that following a request from Belfast City Council, police officers were present “to ensure the safety of persons removing a banner from council property”.

She said that police had received reports about banners erected in North and south of the city. “Inquiries are under way to establish if these banners constitute any criminal offence or offences, including a hate incident or hate crime.”

Mr Finucane, a lawyer and Lord Mayor of Belfast, is standing for election in North Belfast in what will be a closely fought battle against DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is not running a candidate in the constituency and has instead asked its supporters to back Mr Dodds.

Sinn Féin candidate in north Belfast John Finucane with party leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill at the ardfheis last weekend. Photograph: Getty
Sinn Féin candidate in north Belfast John Finucane with party leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill at the ardfheis last weekend. Photograph: Getty

The SDLP has also stood aside as part of a pro-Remain arrangement to maximise Mr Finucane’s vote.

At least two similar banners remain in Belfast. A loyalist source told the PA news agency that they plan to replace any that are removed by the authorities.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the banners were “ yet another sinister attack on the democratic process in what is fast becoming a toxic and dangerous campaign”.

DUP ‘unaware of the matter’

She called on unionist politicians to condemn unequivocally the banners and intends to raise the issue with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson.

“Political leaders have a responsibility to bring this sinister and dangerous campaign of threats and intimidation against John Finucane to an end,” she said.

A DUP spokesman said the party was “unaware of the matter”.

“If it has been reported to the police then anyone with information should help with their inquiries. The DUP consistently condemns violence or anyone inciting hatred,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood condemned “disgusting” banners in south Belfast that targeted Mr Finucane and SDLP candidate Claire Hanna.

Sinn Féin is not standing in south Belfast and has instead asked its supporters to vote for Ms Hanna.

Mr Eastwood said the banners sought to “sow hatred and division” and those responsible were “cynically using, abusing and retraumatising victims for narrow political purposes. Parties must make a clear statement rejecting these banners and those who put them up. The DUP, in particular, must clearly condemn this. Meek rejection from party spokespeople is not enough.”