Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin mayor John Finucane welcomes Prince Charles to Belfast

Mayor of Belfast John Finucane on his first official engagement; showing Prince Charles the renovation work on the Primark Building in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann 

Prince Charles has been welcomed to Belfast by newly-installed Sinn Féin mayor John Finucane during a visit to the Bank Buildings in the city centre.

Mr Finucane performed his first official engagement as mayor just hours after it was revealed police have warned him of a threat by loyalists to attack him in his family home.

The prince, who was accompanied by his wife Camilla, saw the remains of the building that was ravaged by fire in August last year, leaving the Primark store close to collapse.

The couple met Primark's chief executive Paul Marchant, restoration experts and first responders who dealt with the aftermath of the blaze.

Prince Charles in Belfast city centre after viewing the Primark Building. Picture by Mal McCann 

Speaking about the building, Charles told a group of construction workers "I hope it comes back to life soon".

Earlier today, Camilla arrived at a homeless charity complex beside a section of Belfast's longest peace wall for a solo visit.

The Belfast Welcome Organisation is based on Townsend Street, just yards from heavy metal gates which form part of the peace wall which divides the mainly Unionist/Loyalist lower Shankill Road from the mainly Nationalist/Republican Falls Road.

It has been providing services and support for people affected by homelessness in the city since 1997.

The organisation started off as a community-based drop-in centre and has grown to now offer a street outreach service, crisis accommodation for women, a floating support service and growing furniture project Welcome Home.

 The Duchess of Cornwall arrives for her visit to the Belfast Welcome Organisation which has been providing potentially life-saving services and support to people affected by homelessness in Belfast since 1997.

Camilla was guided around the charity's shop by chief executive Sandra Moore and met a number of its staff, volunteers and clients before seeing the workshop where items of furniture are upcycled for sale.

She also spoke with a number of homeless women who come to the centre every day to use its services and learn to upcycle furniture for sale in the shop.

"That's so important to restore your confidence," she told one woman, who had described to her how much the charity's services mean to her life.

"It gets you on the path, and once you are on the path you're going. You are all very brave to talk."

Praising the produce sold in the shop, she added: "The shop is just incredible, real talent."

The duchess was then invited to try her hand at some craftwork before being presented with a "Belfast Newsie" cap crafted from traditional Irish tweed.

She also met Lee-Maria Hughes, whose sister Catherine died at the age of 32 on the streets of Belfast.

The Prince of Wales met with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during a visit to a Belfast Synagogue on the second day of the Royal couple's visit to Northern Ireland. 

The Prince of Wales met a woman rescued from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War as he visited a synagogue in north Belfast.

Ruth Kohner, 82, was part of the Kindertransport in 1939 which brought Jewish children to the UK and safety from the Nazis. She was aged two.

She said: "It saved our lives, it must have been very difficult for my parents, who had travelled 10 days by train, to bring me and my sister to escape, but they saved our lives."

Her father lost many relatives in the concentration camps, left his mother behind and knew he would never see her again.

She spent the war at a farm in Millisle, near Belfast, along with other rescued youngsters and went on to run a family clothing business for many years.

She said Charles asked her several questions when he met her at the Jewish community's place of worship in north Belfast.

The timing of the Prince of Wales's visit to Belfast was criticised as "insensitive" by families whose loved ones were killed in a notorious spate of shootings involving the Parachute Regiment during Northern Ireland's Troubles.

The relatives of 10 people shot over three days in 1971 called on Charles to apologise for the actions of his men due to his role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Paras.

 Families and supporters of those killed in shootings involving the parachuted regiment in Ballymurphy West Belfast 1971, protest at the visit of Prince of Wales, the regiment's commander-in-chief, to Belfast.

An inquest being held into the shootings - known as the Ballymurphy Massacre - is expected to hear evidence from former members of the regiment on Wednesday.

The families staged a protest near Laganside Courts in Belfast, where the inquest is being held, against the royal visit and held placards including one which read "Colonel in Chief of Paras Shame On You".

John Teggart, a spokesman for the families, read a statement on their behalf during the demonstration.

He said: "Prince Charles is the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment and he must take full responsibility for the actions of his troops.

"We think that the timing of this visit is very insensitive given the evidence of mass murder and sheer brutality being described in court by witnesses over the past months.

"Charles should know the hurt families like ourselves are going though at this present time. This hurt is not restricted to us; we know that other families suffer as we do."

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