Envelopes containing bullets were mailed to assembly members of political parties Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party at Stormont, Northern Ireland’s legislative assembly. The threats are the latest development in a string of loyalist street violence since Stormont’s vote to decrease the number of days they would fly the Union Jack.
Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, which represents the Catholic minority, said envelopes with bullets had been mailed to two of its Stormont assembly members. Envelopes were sent to Gerry Kelly, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and Alex Maskey, the first member of Sinn Fein to serve as Belfast’s Lord Mayor in 2002.
The cross-community Alliance Party said three of its members received letters with bullets. Envelopes were mailed to party leader David Ford, East Belfast MP Naomi Long, and local councillor Gerardine Mulvenna. Alliance Party offices have been burned in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. Ms Long and Mr Kelly have received death threats.
BreakingNews.ie reported a spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said, “Police are currently dealing with a number of suspicious packages which have been located in the [mailroom] at Stormont.”
An assembly spokesperson added, “A package was delivered to Parliament Buildings on Wednesday and intercepted by security staff. In line with standard procedures, the package has been passed to the PSNI.”
Ford, who received one of the envelopes, told the BBC, “Every individual in political life needs to examine what they are doing, the words that they are using and whether the things that they are saying could be contributing to creating this difficult atmosphere. People are now taking action way beyond anything that may have been expected to arise from a democratic decision of a local council.”
Following the recent vote to decrease the number of days the Union Jack flies over Stormont, there has been a string of attacks against public representatives. The number of days to fly the flag has been reduced from 365 to 18 official days. The vote set off loyalist violence and roadblocks, which are still up and negatively impacting trading in Belfast during the Christmas rush. More than 40 police officers have been injured in the three weeks since the vote.
Stormont First Minister and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist leader Michael Nesbitt plan to set up a forum to discuss concerns over flying the Union Jack, as well as other loyalist concerns. The first meeting could be before Christmas, but will more likely be sometime early in the new year.
The violence comes after a recent census in Northern Ireland showing a narrowing gap between Catholic and Protestant populations. Protestant population had decreased to 48% whereas Catholic population had increased to 45% since the 2001 census. Only 40% of Northern Ireland’s population identified themselves as British only and experts say the dwindling gap between Catholic and Protestant will lead to a major political change in the future.