Police attend as banner attacking family of candidate John Finucane is removed

A banner against a Sinn Fein election candidate and his family has been taken down in North Belfast.

Monday, 18th November 2019, 4:52 pm
A banner targeting Sinn Fein election candidate John Finucane and his family, which was erected on a building in Mayo Street of Shankill Road in Belfast

Banners titled "The real Finucane family - human rights abusers" were erected at a number of locations in the North Belfast constituency where John Finucane is running as a Sinn Fein election candidate.

One of the banners, located in the Tiger's Bay area, was removed at the behest of Belfast City Council as police attended.

Other banners remain, including one on Mayo Street off the Shankill Road, one on York Street as well as one in the Steeple estate in Antrim and one in Ballymena.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A Loyalist source told the PA news agency that they plan to replace any that are removed by the authorities.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald has called for unionists to condemn what she termed the "sinister and dangerous campaign of threats and intimidation against John Finucane and his family".

Earlier a DUP spokesman said it was "unaware of the matter".

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

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

Ms McDonald said she intends to raise the banners with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The banners make allegations against members of Mr Finucane's family, including his father Pat, a solicitor who was murdered by loyalists at the family home in 1989.

A senior PSNI officer said the banners are being investigated "to establish if these banners constitute any criminal offence or offences, including a hate incident or hate crime".

Superintendent Melanie Jones said officers attended the removal of the banner in Tiger's Bay.

"Following a request from Belfast City Council, police were in attendance in the Tiger's Bay area of North Belfast this morning to ensure the safety of persons removing a banner from council property on behalf of Belfast City Council," she said, adding that the banners are being investigated.

"Police have received reports about banners erected in North and South Belfast.

"Inquiries are under way to establish if these banners constitute any criminal offence or offences, including a hate incident or hate crime."

Previously Mr Finucane faced criticism for Shankill bomber Sean Kelly being among his team of canvassers in North Belfast.

Ms McDonald has defended Mr Kelly's role, saying he is a supporter of the peace process and had expressed regret over the 1993 fish shop attack which killed nine Protestants.

The banner on Mayo Street is a short distance from the location of the bomb.

Alan McBride, whose wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond Frizzell were killed in the IRA blast, said those placing the banners have "absolutely nothing to offer society", and urged them to remove them.

The row comes in a constituency which is expected to see a close result between incumbent Nigel Dodds (DUP) and Mr Finucane at next month's General Election.

Founder of victims group Relatives For Justice Clara Reilly described the banners and posters as "appalling" and called for all political parties to condemn them.

"All parties should find condemning this outrageous interference in and threat to democracy easy. Indeed it is their duty to condemn these developments; if they do not, they are complicit in this outrage," she said.

"My thoughts are with the Finucane family whom I have known personally since Pat Finucane was a newly qualified solicitor. They continue to be an inspiration."

Alliance Party candidate Nuala McAllister is the third of the three candidates running for election in North Belfast.

The Ulster Unionist Party is not standing a candidate in the constituency in an act of support for Mr Dodds. The SDLP is also not running as part of a pro-Remain arrangement.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood condemned the appearance of banners that target Mr Finucane as well as a banner targeting his party's South Belfast candidate Claire Hanna.

"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.

"Those responsible for these banners, and those defending them from behind a computer screen, are attempting to divide our communities further.

"They want to balkanise and control us. They cannot be allowed to win.

"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."