Sinister graffiti containing Michael Gove‘s name, his address and a threatening message has appeared in a staunchly loyalist area of Belfast.
The menacing ‘we don’t forget, we don’t forgive’ message was scrawled across a series of building site hoarding boards in the Sandy Row area of Northern Ireland‘s capital.
The street is in a well-known loyalist area which was once home to a huge Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) mural.
Police in Northern Ireland have today confirmed to MailOnline that they are aware of the graffiti and have launched a criminal damage probe.
The threatening message comes amid rising tension in the country over Britain’s Brexit trade deal – in which Mr Gove played a leading role.
Meanwhile, leading political figures in Northern Ireland have today condemned the graffiti threat.
Claire Hanna, MP for Belfast South, today described the intimidation tactics as ‘completely unacceptable’.
The menacing message which said ‘we don’t forget, we don’t forgive’ was scrawled across a line of building site hoarding boards in the Sandy Row area of Northern Ireland’s capital
Police in Northern Ireland have today confirmed to MailOnline that the graffiti has been reported to them. Pictured: Michael Gove outside Downing Street
Claire Hanna, MP for Belfast South, the area in which the graffiti was sprayed, today described the intimidation tactics as ‘completely unacceptable’
The SDLP politician told MailOnline: ‘Northern Ireland had decades of grisly politics and threats on gable walls and the vast majority of people here want no part of it.
‘As anticipated, Brexit has brought us to a very difficult place but we are where we are and have to make the best of it and whatever your view on that issue, no politician should face this.’
Sandy Row: The staunchly loyalist street once home to huge mural
Sandy Row is a large residential street in the heart of Belfast.
It is home to around 4,000 people, who are predominantly protestant working class.
The road is part of a staunchly loyalist area of Belfast and was once home to a huge mural to the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF).
The mural was painted over in 2012 and was replaced with a mural to the protestant king William III – also known as William the Orange.
Known as ‘King Billy’ in parts of Ireland and Scotland, the mural is in memory of him passing through the area on his way to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The latest mural was part of a wider project to give loyalist and republican communities in Belfast a new image.
The UFF murdered more than 250 people during the Troubles – most of them Catholics – and was stood down in 2007.
Today, the Met Police said it would not comment on matters of personal security when asked if Mr Gove would be provided with security support following the threatening message.
MailOnline has contacted Mr Gove and the Cabinet Office for comment.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) today confirmed it is launching a criminal damage investigation.
A spokesperson said: ‘At 8:35am on Tuesday police officers on patrol in south Belfast came across criminal damage at the junction of Sandy Row and Boyne Court where graffiti was sprayed on a wall.
‘Enquiries are ongoing, and anyone with information is asked to call police on 101, and quote reference number 311 of 02/03/21.’
The investigation comes as police in Northern Ireland last month denied that port staff were under threat over post-Brexit border checks after graffiti called them ‘targets’.
PSNI said there was never ‘credible’ intelligence that port authorities were at risk.
Inspections on goods entering Belfast and Larne were stopped last month when DUP politicians withdrew border staff after menacing graffiti branded them ‘targets’.
The suspension of checks – which have since now resumed – later came under scrutiny after the province’s most senior police chief insisted there was no evidence of a serious threat.
Asked if the police had solid evidence of a threat, he told BBC Radio Ulster on Monday: ‘No we weren’t, we didn’t have that credible information you talk about.’
He added: ‘What has happened is that people outside the purview of policing have made their own decisions in relation to their workforce and we worked with them to reassure them there was no credible threat, and they’re now back at work.
The graffiti comes amid rising tension in the country over Britain’s Brexit deal – in which Mr Gove was heavily involved.
‘I think they’ve chosen to interpret what has been said, we’re here to give policing advice and to do the policing part of this complex problem.’
The DUP has since been accused of withdrawing staff to whip up anger over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangement.
The DUP has been vocal in its opposition to the Brexit trade deal struck with the UK Government, but has denied stirring up tensions.
The post-Brexit deal brokered on Christmas Eve keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But it requires goods coming across the Irish Sea from Britain to be checked.
Not all of these tighter trade rules are yet enforced, and both sides agreed a ‘grace period’ until April on certain products to ease businesses into the new arrangements.
Britain wants to extend the first of these periods will expire at the end of March, but the UK has said it will be extended until October.
Mr Gove has asked Brussels to extend this grace period by two years, though this is likely to be rejected.
Today, European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said the move to extend the grace period amounted to ‘a violation of the relevant substantive provisions’ of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Šefčovič is due to meet the UK’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost on Wednesday evening.
Last week unionists announced they are launching legal challenges to overturn the Brexit protocol claiming it breaches the Good Friday Agreement and 1800 Act of Union.
DUP leader Arlene Foster is spearheading a judicial review bid as she ramps up pressure for trade arrangements that do not create barriers between the province and the British mainland.
Inspections on goods entering Belfast and Larne were stopped last week when DUP politicians withdrew border staff after menacing graffiti branded them ‘targets’. Staff have now returned and were pictured at the port today
Inspections on goods entering Belfast and Larne were stopped last week when DUP politicians withdrew border staff after menacing graffiti branded them ‘targets’
The move comes amid ongoing loyalist fury at new regulatory and customs processes required to bring goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Nationalists, the Irish Government and the EU have insisted there can only be minor tweaks to the protocol negotiated as part of the divorce deal – and intended to ensure free-flowing trade on the island of Ireland.
But there have been warnings of rising sectarian tensions that could undermine the delicate peace.
Mrs Foster said: ‘Fundamental to the Act of Union is unfettered trade throughout the UK.
‘At the core of the Belfast Agreement was the principle of consent yet the Northern Ireland Protocol has driven a coach and horses through both the Act of Union and the Belfast Agreement.’
Nationalist SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said: ‘The DUP’s legal action against the Ireland Protocol is ill-judged and will only further entrench the febrile political environment as well as creating further uncertainty for people and businesses.
‘There will be few with sympathy for the argument that the protocol, which prevents a hard border in Ireland and guarantees dual market access for local businesses, breaches the Good Friday Agreement.’