'Jostling' repeated past behaviour

Mayor leaving
Image caption Lord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was heckled by loyalist protesters

"It was very ugly and, truth to tell, frightening. Sometimes the veneer of human civilisation can be remarkably thin.

"Without my protectors I would have ended up in intensive care or worse. To their shame not many TV viewers seemed particularly concerned."

The thoughts of Sinn Féin's Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, after his bruising experience in Woodvale Park ?

No, that's a quote from Brian Mawhinney's recent memoir Just a Simple Belfast Boy, in which the former Northern Ireland Office minister describes how both he and his family had to run the gauntlet of furious loyalists in the years after the signing of the Anglo Irish agreement.

Dr Mawhinney targets his ire not just on those who physically assaulted him and his police escorts, but also on others "allegedly too law-abiding to contemplate anything like direct action", but who "appeared to have no hesitation in tipping off others who were not so scrupulous".

Down through the years, Dr Mawhinney and his colleagues at the Northern Ireland Office weren't the only politicians who had to rely on their police bodyguards to get them out of sticky situations.

I remember David Trimble trying to look unruffled as he and his wife were severely jostled after they left an election count at Banbridge.


Tony Blair took refuge inside Connswater shopping centre in east Belfast after loyalists protested against his decision to meet Gerry Adams.

Republicans sometimes adopted the same approach when they learned of an impending political visit, such as the clashes with police that accompanied John Major's visit to the Tower Museum in Londonderry.

Such strong arm tactics were nowhere near as heinous as the assassinations of politicians and so many others perpetrated by both republicans and loyalists during the troubles.

Indeed Máirtín Ó Muilleoir in his own memoir Dome of Delight recalls an era when Belfast City Council witnessed as many unruly scenes inside its chamber as outside.

But given the better future most people aspire to, surely it's not enough to simply shrug our shoulders and say, "sure, that's politics".

What happened at Woodvale Park was, as Brian Mawhinney put it, another reminder of the thin veneer of civilisation that holds us together. It detracted from the positive images generated by Belfast's hosting of the World Police and Fire Games.

The Lord Mayor, by playing down the incident and pledging to continue to carry out his civic duties, has enhanced his reputation.

There may be anger in loyalist areas about parades, flags and a sense of a culture under siege, a sense graphically illustrated in this week's BBC 3 documentary Petrol Bombs and Peace.

But those justifying the treatment meted out to the mayor or arguing he should have listened to advice to stay away from Woodvale should remember the old dictum that in politics, if you are explaining, you're usually losing.