Northern Ireland news

DUP urged to condemn banners targeting John Finucane and Claire Hanna

Sinn Féin's John Finucane. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

THE DUP has been urged to "clearly condemn" loyalist banners targeting Sinn Féin's John Finucane and the SDLP's Claire Hanna after the displays were reported to police.

Police are "making enquiries" after several banners, which include offensive and false allegations, were erected recently against the Westminster election candidates in north and south Belfast.

They are examining whether any of the banners constitute a criminal offence such as a "hate incident or hate crime".

One banner targeting Mr Finucane was removed by Belfast City Council under police guard yesterday morning from fencing at a council playpark in the loyalist Tigers Bay area.

It made reference to Shankill bomber Sean Kelly canvassing for Sinn Féin in the North Belfast constituency and urged people to "vote unionist".

A banner targeting the Finucane family on Mayo Street, Belfast. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones said police attended to "ensure the safety of persons removing a banner from council property on behalf of Belfast City Council".

She added: "Police have received reports about banners erected in north and south Belfast. Enquiries are under way to establish if these banners constitute any criminal offence or offences, including a hate incident or hate crime."

A council spokeswoman said the banner in Tigers Bay was removed because it was on council property. She said the banner was still in the possession of the council.

A banner targeting Sinn Féin's John Finucane in the loyalist Tigers Bay area of north Belfast which has been removed

The controversy comes in two constituencies which are expected to be closely fought in the general election on December 12.

Mr Finucane is hoping to take the North Belfast seat from DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, while the SDLP's Claire Hanna is vying to unseat the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly in South Belfast.

A banner on Mayo Street off the Shankill Road in west Belfast attacks Mr Finucane and his family, including his father Pat Finucane who was murdered by loyalists in 1989.

One similar to the banner removed from Tigers Bay has also been put up on the Lower Shankill Road as well as in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the banners have been reported to police as hate crimes.

A banner targeting the SDLP's Claire Hanna erected on Oak Street in south Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the "campaign of harassment, intimidation and threats" against Mr Finucane and his family as "appalling and dangerous".

"I am calling in all those in positions of leadership within political unionism, and in particular the leadership of the DUP to unequivocally condemn this in the strongest possible terms," she said.

In south Belfast, a banner targeting Ms Hanna was put up at Oak Street along Donegall Pass, a traditionally loyalist area.

The loyalist banner asks if Shankill bomber Sean Kelly would be campaigning for the Westminster candidate – a suggestion dismissed by the SDLP.

A banner in Ballymena targeting Sinn Féin's John Finucane

It follows Sinn Féin standing aside in some constituencies including South Belfast in order to back other anti-Brexit candidates. The SDLP is likewise not running in North Belfast.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The banners that have been erected in Belfast targeting John Finucane and Claire Hanna seeking to sow hatred and division are disgusting.

"Those responsible are cynically using, abusing and retraumatising victims for narrow political purposes," he said.

He added: "Parties must make a clear statement rejecting these banners and those who put them up. The DUP, in particular, must clearly condemn this. Meek rejection from party spokespeople is not enough."

When asked about the banners controversy at the weekend, a DUP spokesman said in a statement: "We are unaware of the matter.

"If it has been reported to the police then anyone with information should help their inquiries.

"The DUP consistently condemns violence or anyone inciting hatred. Will SF now condemn those behind the many PIRA murders in North Belfast?"

The DUP was asked yesterday for further comment to clarify its position, but the party only reissued its first statement.

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