By Francesca Ryan

Belfast’s Lord Mayor says unionist politicians “disappeared like snow off a ditch” as he was attacked by loyalists in a Shankill Road park this week.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was speaking after he was escorted from Woodvale Park on Tuesday when an angry loyalist mob attacked him and PSNI officers who were trying to protect him.

The South Belfast councillor was there to officially open the park following a £2m investment – £1m of which came from Council.  Hours earlier he, along with DUP politicians, had officially opened Dunville Park on the Falls Road where his unionist colleagues received a warm welcome.

The treatment meted out to the city’s First Citizen in Woodvale stood in stark contrast to the upbeat and positive mood at Dunville. Missiles and abuse were hurled at the Sinn Féin man as children, who had attended for a family fun day, watched on in horror.

Extra PSNI officers were drafted in as the protesting loyalists grew ugly and began to physically attack the Lord Mayor and the police officers. Councillor Ó Muilleoir was escorted through the angry throng and brought to hospital for a check-up while nine police officers were injured in the attack.

Despite the trauma, Councillor Ó Muilleoir says he will continue to look forward to a peaceful future for Belfast.

“As Lord Mayor I promised to be a First Citizen for all and that means taking up invitations to go to every part of our great city,” he said.

“This was a very important day for the city with massive investment in new facilities, and I don’t want to distract from that positive message.

“My message is: let’s not let anyone drag us back to the past. Let’s build the future Belfast together.”

The SDLP’s Group Leader on Belfast City Council Cllr Tim Attwood condemned the attack.

“My fellow councillor Colin Keenan and I witnessed the jostling and attack on Lord Mayor Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir,” he said. “It is a most regrettable incident and dreadful that both the Lord Mayor and a number of PSNI officers were injured. The Lord Mayor is a representative of the whole of the city and should be able to attend events across the city. Equally people have the right to protest but should do this in a dignified and peaceful manner.

“The really good news story is  £4milllion pounds have been invested in regenerating both Dunville and Woodvale Parks. Kids and local people now have access to beautiful renewed 3G pitches. Hundreds of children were enjoying these new facilities and special events held for the opening of the parks.”

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