THE re-opening of Woodvale Park had to be abandoned after the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mairtin O'Muilleoir, came under attack from loyalist protesters yesterday (Tuesday, August 6).
The mayor was escorted from the park by police as a hostile crowd jostled and heckled him. He was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital for a check-up following the incident.
Nine police officers were injured, sustaining cuts and bruises, in what a police spokesperson described as "violent scuffles".
"A large crowd gathered in the area and missiles were thrown at officers as well as Lord Mayor of Belfast Mairtin O'Muilleoir. Damage was also caused to his vehicle," they added.
Speaking to UTV after the attack the Sinn Fein councillor confirmed he was "punched and kicked" in the incident.
He took to his Twitter account to state: "As Lord Mayor for all, I promised to visit every part of Belfast, if invited."
He confirmed that police advice was that it would be safe for him to attend, adding, "anti peace elements will not win".
The mayor also tweeted his appreciation of the officers who protected him: "Big thanks to PSNI officers who were assaulted at Woodvale to ensure I discharged my duties as First Citizen."
However, DUP spokesman Alderman William Humphrey MLA said the events at Woodvale were "entirely preventable", given the strength of feeling among unionist residents at a number of political developments in the past year .
He continued: "As councillors for Court Electoral Area we communicated to Belfast City Council and the Lord Mayor's unit, going back over the past month, our concerns regarding the Lord Mayor officiating at the Woodvale Park re-opening event."
Blaming a "highly sensitive situation" due to local anger at the removal of the Union flag from City Hall; the "blocking" of the Twelfth of July parade at Woodvale; and "ongoing attacks on our community", Alderman Humphrey said councillors felt it would be "totally inappropriate" for the Lord Mayor, as a Sinn Fein politician, to officiate at the re-opening of the park.
"We were aware that having him participate in any official capacity would be an affront to many within our community and recommended that this duty be deputised to another Council representative, as there was the danger of his presence creating tension which would overshadow a family fun day," he said.
"Respect and tolerance is a two way street: you cannot trample all over people's sensitivities and then a matter of weeks later, because you have a chain around your neck, waltz into a community pretending you represent everyone.
"Sinn Fein have chosen this path and until such times as they chose to embrace tolerance and respect, no-one will take them seriously when they talk about a shared future," he concluded.
North Belfast Area Commander Chief Inspector Andy Freeburn said police will be investigating the "appalling" incident and are seeking to identify those involved. "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 added.