A DEFIANT Lord Mayor of Belfast says he will not be deterred by “violent protest and thugs” after being assaulted during a community fun day in north Belfast.
Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir told the Belfast Telegraph he was “thumped about the face” and suffered a “very bad bruise on my leg” during a “sectarian attack” at the official opening of Woodvale Park.
Nine PSNI officers sustained cuts and bruises after missiles were thrown at them and violent scuffles broke out yesterday afternoon, following a loyalist protest connected to the Parades Commission decision to ban the Orange Order from marching past the Ardyone shopfronts.
When Mr O Muilleoir arrived at the park he was the target of some heckling but went on to perform the official opening.
Police were concerned and extra officers drafted in. Video of the attack shows the concerted effort made by the violent loyalist protesters to assault the first citizen.
Police were forced to form a human shield to get him to his official car, which was also damaged in the attack.
Nine officers suffered injuries during the melee.
It is thought to be the first time the Lord Mayor of Belfast has been personally attacked and injured in the long and often turbulent history of the city.
Mr O Muilleoir (below) said: “It was a sectarian attack, I presume there’s live footage of it.
“It was reminiscent of the worst days of Belfast, but what you have to remind yourself is this was a very small group.
“There were thousands of people in the park taking part in the community fun day.”
It was a tale of two cities as earlier the Lord Mayor was on the Falls Road with senior DUP figures for the reopening of Dunville Park. There was no trouble or any protests against the unionists.
But the DUP said afterwards it had warned the Lord Mayor he would not be welcome at Woodvale.
Mr O Muilleoir said: “Earlier I had been with minister Nelson McCausland and alderman Gavin Robinson at a community day in Dunville Park. I was delighted and honoured to be at that.
“We need to realise we are going to encounter some speed bumps along the way as we continue to build Belfast.”
North Belfast area commander Chief Inspector Andy Freeburn described the violence as “appalling” and said the PSNI will identify those responsible.
He added: “This should have been a positive day about the opening of a children’s play park but instead it was marred by disorder which has left a number of our community officers injured.”
Mr O Muilleoir was examined in a Belfast hospital after the incident and then discharged so he could return to his mayoral duties handing out World Police and Fire Games medals at the Mary Peters Track in the south of the city.
Praising the PSNI’s response to the violence, he said: “I’ve been at the hospital and I’ve a very bad bruise on my leg and I’ve been thumped about the face.
“I feel more sympathy for the police officers.
“It was a violent protest, a violent attack on the police.
“I’m the first first citizen to be assaulted, that wasn’t one of the firsts I wanted to make this year, but the message has to be, I said I wanted to be the first citizen for all the people.
“I was invited to go to the Shankill, I have great respect for the people of the Shankill.
“The police advice was it was safe, because we are not going to go where the police think it isn’t safe. Therefore I was discharging my obligations as Lord Mayor.”
He added: “It’s unfortunate it overshadowed a day which is about celebrating, I suppose, the future Belfast but I’m determined I will discharge my duties as first citizen fairly, across the city and this won’t deter me.
“If violent protest and thugs were to decide where the first citizen goes and where he doesn’t it wouldn’t be a city worth living in. We’re going to build peace and we’re not going to be dragged back by anyone.
“People who wish to push us back to dark days of no-go areas are not going to succeed.
“We will prevail, the great people of this city will prevail in building peace in this city and building Belfast.”