Northern Ireland

Belfast's Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir 'jostled by loyalists'

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Media captionLord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was heckled by loyalist protesters.

The lord mayor of Belfast, Sinn Fein's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, has been jostled and heckled by loyalist protesters at the re-opening of a park in the Woodvale district of north Belfast.

He was escorted away from the trouble by the police and the ceremony was cancelled.

The police say nine of their officers received cuts and bruising.

The lord mayor said he will continue to represent everyone and there will be no 'no-go' areas.

Violent scuffles broke out at the official opening of the park and missiles were thrown at officers as well as at the lord mayor. Damage was also caused to his vehicle.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) North Belfast Area Commander, Ch Insp Andy Freeburn, called the incident "appalling" and said the police would identify those responsible.

"This should have been a positive day about the opening of a children's play park in the area, but instead was marred by disorder which has left a number of our community officers injured," he said.

'Hijacked'

Mr Ó Muilleoir later tweeted that as lord mayor he had promised to visit every part of Belfast, if invited.

"There were a small minority of wreckers which hijacked the event and of course it turned violent," he said.

"I want to commend the police, they took a lot of blows, I took some blows.

"I think as first citizen you have to travel this entire city if you want to represent all the people. There can't be any no-go areas in Belfast in 2013."

Woodvale was the scene of recent rioting linked to a 12 July parade.

The Parades Commission ruled that three Orange Order lodges could not make the return journey past Ardoyne shops on Crumlin Road, an interface separating unionist and nationalist communities.

Protests

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Media captionBBC Ireland Correspondent Chris Buckler: "The Lord Mayor of Belfast was attacked in the city that he represents"

Five nights of rioting followed the decision.

The Parades Commission is the body that adjudicates on contentious parades in Northern Ireland.

Loyalists have also been involved in protests after a decision was taken by Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the union flag to specific days of the year.

Alderman William Humphrey, DUP MLA for North Belfast, said the scenes at Woodvale were "absolutely preventable".

"We asked that the deputy lord mayor or the high sheriff carry out this duty here today," he said.

"There is real anger, frustration. It started when the flag was removed. The lord mayor's party, the SDLP and Alliance came together to do that.

Condemned

"This should have been a day of celebration for a £2m investment by the council and the Department of Social Development and quite honestly the lord mayor needs to understand he cannot make statements and go around doing press interviews calling for our flag to be removed, remove the flag, and then when he has a chain around his neck as lord mayor of this city, expect people to welcome him as first citizen.

"That's not how it works in the real world."

Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford said he "wholeheartedly" condemned the incident.

"The police will be investigating this incident with a view to identifying those responsible and bringing them before the courts," he said.

"Anyone going about their civic duty should be free to do so free from harassment, violence and intimidation. Such violence against elected representatives and the police must be condemned."

The city council and the Department for Social Development have invested a total of £4m to revitalise two community parks in Belfast.

One is Woodvale and the other is Dunville Park on the Falls Road.

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