Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist attack on Lord Mayor: 'No one should be subjected to hate like that in Belfast'

By Adrian Rutherford

A tense hush fell over court number seven as the main prosecution witness – Belfast's first citizen – was called to give evidence.

Dressed smartly in a black suit, white shirt and purple tie – but without his chain of office – Mairtin O Muilleoir strode confidently towards the witness box, ignoring the glares of loyalist supporters who packed into the public gallery.

One of the most charismatic and articulate members of the City Council, Mr O Muilleoir seemed at ease during more than an hour giving evidence.

He described how a simple diary appointment last August – planting a tree to mark the opening of a new play park – descended into violence which left him fearing for his life.

But this wasn't just any event, it was one which took a senior Sinn Fein figure into a staunchly loyalist community at a time when tensions were running high in the city.

The atmosphere was equally charged at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday, with around 30 loyalist supporters crowding into the small courtroom.

One middle-aged woman was wearing a Union flag-themed scarf and using a heart-shaped fan, also coloured red, white and blue. Also among the gallery, sat in the front row, was Ruth Patterson (right), a DUP member of Belfast City Council.

Five police officers stood guard at the rear of the court.

At the outset District Judge George Conner warned spectators against causing any disruption, saying: "It seems there is a very keen public interest in this case. I have no problem with that as long as people behave themselves."

The reaction from some was petulant at times, without ever developing into outright dissent.

When Mr O Muilleoir was asked to state his name for the court – as is standard procedure – there were replies of "what", "Martin Miller?" from some, mocking his Irish pronunciation.

One of the defendants, Samuel Lendrum, interrupted saying: "I didn't hear his second name there."

At one stage video footage of the incident was shown in court, including a clip recorded by An Phoblacht – Sinn Fein's publicity website – causing someone in the gallery to remark: "Is that Republican News?"

On the morning of August 6, Mr O Muilleoir had carried out similar duties at Dunville Park, but recalled how the atmosphere changed when he arrived at Woodvale Park. He said it was clear he was not welcome.

"There were shouts of 'terrorist', 'Fenian b******', shouts of 'you're not welcome'," he explained.

Mr O Muilleoir said it was a difficult situation which rapidly became dangerous.

He added: "It was vile abuse, it was violent abuse and it was vitriolic. No one should be subjected to that hate and sectarianism in the great city of Belfast in 2013."

Mr O Muilleoir said he was taunted by shouts of 'Martin Miller', an English version of his name.

Asked about the remarks in court, he said it was "deep-seated sectarianism" and a lack of respect from people trying to deny him his proper name. I only hear that type of approach used by people who are bigoted".

Mr O Muilleoir said he was kicked in the leg and at one stage, as he was exiting the area amid a police escort, feared his life was in danger.

But the incident has clearly not deterred him from carrying out his Lord Mayor duties. He was keen to stress that what he saw on August 6 was not representative of the "vast, vast, vast majority" of Belfast's citizens.

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