James Nesbitt ‘saddened’ after being targeted in graffiti

Actor James Nesbitt has said he is “saddened” after being targeted in menacing graffiti.

The message threatening the Cold Feet actor, which was daubed on a wall in the predominantly unionist town of Portrush in Co Antrim, is being treated by police as a hate crime.

It appeared weeks after Nesbitt was the keynote speaker at an event in Dublin organised by a campaign group advocating for a united Ireland.

The threat to the Northern Ireland-born actor referenced the King and Crown and also included a hostile reference to the Pope.

Mr Nesbitt said he doesn’t believe it reflects the views of the majority of people in Portrush.

“It’s a bit unnerving of course … it really saddens me because I am just sorry this has been brought to Portrush, brought to my neighbours, brought to a community I love,” he told the BBC.

He said he is also saddened that some people “may have misunderstood” his position after he spoke at the Ireland’s Future conference earlier this month.

“In a democracy people are entitled to engage in a public conversation about the future and that is all I was intending to do when I took part in the Ireland’s Future debate,” he said.

“I was simply saying a conversation about what this island might look like in the future is worth having. I certainly don’t promote any solution and I don’t support any outcome.

“I went down there as someone who is a proud Protestant from the north of Ireland. I have never shied away from my Protestant culture but it doesn’t define me.”

Mr Nesbitt said the graffiti “suggests an element of sectarianism”, adding he wants to see sectarianism “eradicated”.

“If there is going to be change in the relationship between the north and the south (of Ireland), between our relationship with the rest of the British Isles, I very much was hoping to try and put forward the point that people, particularly from my tradition, would feel that they have their identity, that it is in no way threatened, that they have an equal voice, that they are part of a society that is progressive, inclusive and diverse,” he added.

“I certainly don’t take any sides.”

A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: “Police in Coleraine received a report of graffiti on a wall in the Bushmills Road area of Portrush on Wednesday 19th October.

“The graffiti is believed to have been written on the wall some time between 5pm on Tuesday and 7.30pm on Wednesday evening and is being treated as a hate crime.”

Officers have asked anyone with information to come forward.

The graffiti has been condemned by local political representatives.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said Nesbitt should be free to express his views.

“Jimmy Nesbitt is a local lad who has invested in his own community,” said the DUP representative. “Those painting threatening graffiti such as this should stop. Their actions are wrong and to be condemned.

“I fundamentally disagree with Mr Nesbitt’s position on Northern Ireland’s future but he has every right to express his political views in whatever forum he wishes. He should be able to do so free from fear.

“That’s a democracy and it’s why I have opposed Sinn Fein all my life as they believed you could justify violence at the same time as doing politics.

“We must be consistent in always opposing violence as well as any threat of violence and attempted intimidation.”

Sinn Fein’s Caoimhe Archibald said the graffiti represented an attack on freedom of expression.

“The appearance of threatening and sectarian graffiti directed at James Nesbitt in Portrush is disgusting,” she said.

“These threats are an attack on the right to freedom of expression. They come only weeks after James Nesbitt addressed thousands of people in Dublin from right across the political spectrum to discuss the future of the island of Ireland.

“This is clearly a sinister effort to silence debate and intimidate people from joining the discussion.

“There is no place in society for the threats and hatred directed at James Nesbitt.

“Political leaders should stand shoulder to shoulder in opposition to these threats.

“Those responsible for this hate crime should be held to account.

“Anyone with information on those responsible should bring it forward to the PSNI.”

Columba McVeigh search
James Nesbitt, who is patron of the WAVE Trauma Centre, with Oliver McVeigh at a site in Co Monaghan, Ireland, where a search was under way for the remains of 19-year-old Columba McVeigh (Liam McBurney/PA)

Nesbitt has had a long association with Troubles victims’ organisation, the WAVE Trauma Centre.

A spokesman for the centre said: “As a patron of the WAVE Trauma Centre for over 20 years, Jimmy Nesbitt has been a true friend to victims and survivors right across Northern Ireland.

“That speaks to his commitment to support those who have suffered so much during our violent past but yet are too often ignored.”