Woodvale Park: Belfast mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir 'feared for his safety in loyalist protest'

Sinn Fein's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was giving evidence at a Belfast Crown Court

The lord mayor of Belfast has told a court he feared for his safety when he was attacked by loyalists as he opened a park in the city.

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was giving evidence in the trial of three people accused of disorderly behaviour during the re-opening of Woodvale Park.

Maureen Simpson, Samuel Brown Lendrum and Paul Aaron Mateer deny the charges.

The mayor said his life was in peril at one stage, as protesters shouted abuse at him and a crowd surged forward.

Violent scuffles broke out as the Sinn Féin representative attended the official re-opening of the park, which had undergone a £2m upgrade.

Mr Ó Muilleoir said he took refuge in a shed while his police escort organised a way to get him out of the park and away from the trouble.

Start Quote

When I got out of the car some people moved towards us. We were pushed and shoved and I was hit in the back of the head with what I was told was a burger”

End Quote Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Lord Mayor of Belfast

On Tuesday, the lord mayor told Belfast Crown Court that he had two engagements in parks that day, the other having been earlier at Dunville Park.

Sectarian insults

He said that Dunville Park was a straightforward, cross-community event, with members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) taking part.

He added that the atmosphere was very different at Woodvale Park, but that police advised him to get out of his car.

"When I got out of the car some people moved towards us. We were pushed and shoved and I was hit in the back of the head with what I was told was a burger," Mr Ó Muilleoir.

He also said that some of the protesters had placards and banners. Some of the them shouted "terrorist", and "you're not welcome" while some swore at him, using sectarian insults.

Mr Ó Muilleoir told the court that he had expected unionists representatives to be present with him at Woodvale Park but when he got there he found he was "on his own".

He said that he felt the absence of unionist politicians at that point changed the tenor and nature of the day.

'Vile'

The lord mayor said he then spent about 20 minutes in a shed before police came up with a plan to get him out of the park safely.

That plan was to form a police guard around Mr Ó Muilleoir and move him to his car.

He said that at this point there was a cacophony of "vile, violent and vitriolic abuse".

"It was very dangerous. I have no doubt, had I gone down, there was no telling why would have happened. My life would be in peril," Mr Ó Muilleoir told the judge.

The August incident took place amid ongoing protests in the north Belfast area.

It followed rioting on the Woodvale Road on 12 July, when an Orange Order parade was stopped from walking along a nearby stretch of road that separates loyalist and nationalist communities.

The case continues.

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