Northern Ireland news

Police investigate 'hate crime' against child as sectarian tensions simmer in north Belfast

A banner erected at Grove Playing Fields in north Belfast earlier this month.
Paul Ainsworth

POLICE are investigating reports that a child was subjected to sectarian abuse in north Belfast at the weekend by loyalists putting up flags.

The incident in the North Circular Road area on Saturday afternoon was reported to police.

A PSNI spokesman said: "As she walked passed a group of males, it was reported the group started singing a song. Enquiries are continuing into this matter, which was reported as a hate incident."

Deputy lord mayor of Belfast Paul McCusker claimed that the child, who he described as a nine-year-old girl, was among a group subjected to "sectarian abuse".

He said in a tweet: "(She) was left terrified. This is shameful and those behind this need to be dealt with by the PSNI. It's 2020, wise up!"

The incident comes amid growing tensions in the area after loyalists put up a banner at Grove playing fields stating "anti British GAA not welcome".

Graffiti with a similar sentiment was also spray painted in the grounds in recent weeks.

There followed reports of people in GAA jerseys and nationalist-related soccer tops being told to leave the Belfast City Council-owned park by groups of men last week.

North Belfast Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has criticised attempts to mark out territory, intimidate residents and stoke up sectarian tension in the area.

"This is a shared space owned by the council and which everyone should be able to use free from sectarian intimidation and harassment," he said.

"Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents and there seems to be a concerted attempt going on to claim territory in clearly shared spaces, to intimidate residents and stoke up sectarian tensions in other areas of north Belfast.

"The police have a role in ensuring that residents remain safe in the face of sectarian harassment but there is also an onus on all community and political leaders to show leadership, to condemn these actions and do all in their power to bring them to an end."

Separately DUP MLA William Humphrey claimed "nationalist youths" had been causing trouble in the Westland area in recent days and subjected residents to "sectarian abuse".

Mr Humphrey said he planned to lead a delegation of Westland residents to meet with police "to push for increased police patrolling and for determined efforts to catch those carrying out these hate crime attacks".

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news