Belfast Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir feared for his life in loyalist park attack
Belfast Lord Mayor has said he feared for his life after being attacked by loyalists during a visit to a city park.
Mairtin O Muilleoir described how he was subjected to "vile, violent and vitriolic abuse" during a cross-community event to mark the reopening of Woodvale Park in north Belfast last August.
The city's first citizen was giving evidence as three people appeared in court accused of offences linked to the incident.
Maureen Simpson (44), of Palmer Court, Samuel Lendrum (52), from Lawnbrook Avenue, and Paul Mateer (45), of Blackmountain Walk – all in Belfast – are all charged with disorderly behaviour. Mateer, who was working as a photographer for the Shankill Extra newspaper at the event, faces further counts of obstructing and assaulting police.
Simpson is also charged with obstructing police.
All three deny the charges.
Mr O Muilleoir was attending the official reopening of Woodvale Park which had undergone a £2m upgrade.
He had earlier attended a similar event at Dunville Park, which had passed without incident.
However, the Woodvale Park event was hijacked by loyalist protesters, who jostled and kicked the Sinn Fein representative, subjecting him to a barrage of abuse.
Mr O Muilleoir had to take refuge in a shed before being led away surrounded by police.
Giving evidence at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday, Mr O Muilleoir described the atmosphere as dangerous and hateful.
"It was vile abuse, it was violent abuse and it was vitriolic," he said.
Recalling the moment he was removed by police, the Lord Mayor said: "I had no doubt at the time and I have no doubt today that if I had gone down, there's no knowing what would have happened. Your life was in peril if you fell."
He later added: "There was no doubt that if the protesters got at me going in or certainly going out, that my life was in danger."
Mr O Muilleoir was cross-examined by Kelly Doherty, a defence lawyer for Lendrum, who referred to contact from DUP councillor Brian Kingston, the High Sheriff of Belfast, a week before the reopening of Woodvale Park.
It was suggested Mr O Muilleoir step aside and allow William Humphrey, a DUP MLA for North Belfast, to carry out the ceremony.
Mr Kingston, she suggested, thought there may be trouble from paramilitaries if he attended.
Mr O Muilleoir said he spoke to police, who determined there was little substance to the fears.
He added: "The Lord Mayor represents all the people of the city. The Lord Mayor does not have no-go areas."
Mr O Muilleoir said some DUP people would have preferred it if he had not gone, but stressed it was a cross-community day intended to project a positive message of the city.
A fourth defendant, William Knowles (41), of Cambrai Street, Belfast, pleaded guilty to disorderly behaviour before the contested hearing got under way. Knowles will be sentenced later this month.