DUP minister condemns attack on SF mayor but defends loyalist protesters

Decision to visit loyalist stronghold in wake of flags and parades dispute not ‘wise’

The new DUP finance minister at Stormont has condemned violence surrounding a visit by Belfast’s Sinn Féin mayor to the Shankill area this week, but defended the right of local people to protest.

Lord mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and nine PSNI officers, were attacked and slightly injured by an angry loyalist crowd at the re-opening of a public park on Tuesday.

Many were incensed at Sinn Féin support for restrictions on the flying of the Union flag at City Hall passed by the council last November and the banning of Orange marches past the republican Ardoyne area a short distance from the scene of the trouble.

Simon Hamilton, who took over as finance minister from Sammy Wilson last week, criticised the violence but expressed sympathy for the protesters and defended his party colleagues who had advised the lord mayor not to go to the Shankill area.


"Maybe this wasn't the wisest decision by the mayor to go there. I fully support his right to represent the entirely of the city in his capacity as lord mayor . But given some of the things that have been said and done by Sinn Féin over the past couple of months, it probably wasn't the best course of action," Mr Hamilton said. "We are not in the business of trying to make any area of the city a No-Go area."

The minister praised Mr Ó Muilleoir for his efforts “to sketch out a vision for Belfast that a lot of people could subscribe to”.

But he added: “People have absolutely every right to feel angry about what they mayor and his party have said and done in the last number of months. But to have that anger manifest in violence is not a good image and is not something I or my party support.”

Brian Kingston, was one of five DUP signatories to a letter critical of efforts to have the lord mayor visit the Shankill area. "When Sinn Féin are at the forefront of attacks on the cultures and traditions of the unionist/loyalist community, to then want to wear a chain and come in, to be all smiles...there is genuine anger at that," he said.

Strains between the DUP and Sinn Féin surfaced yesterday (Wed) with republicans claiming the DUP group leader on Belfast City Council refused to have anything to do with them.

Jim McVeigh, leader of the Sinn Féin group at city hall said: “We currently have the ludicrous situation in Belfast City Council where the DUP Group leader William Humphrey refuses to speak to Sinn Féin members on the Council. It is the sort of politics engaged in 20 years ago in City Hall and I’m sure will shock the vast majority of citizens of Belfast.”

He accused Mr Humphrey of being locked into a “pre-peace process time warp”.