REMOVING sectarian murals and flags along the route of the Giro d'Italia would be like a "dysfunctional family who want to hide their behaviour when visitors come calling", it has been claimed.
Sporting attention will be on Northern Ireland when the Giro d'Italia international cycle race rolls into town in May.
The Giro is expected to be watched by up to 800m TV viewers, but there are fears that the image of Northern Ireland will be damaged when viewers see riders cycling past paramilitary murals and flags.
That concern prompted Alliance MLA Anna Lo to call for sectarian symbols to be removed from the route.
"Funding will be made available in towns along the route to improve the image of eyesores such as derelict buildings but I have a bigger problem with images of paramilitary gunmen," said the European election candidate.
"Do we really want these images to be visible on the route when millions of people will be watching the race on television?"
Yesterday, the new chairman of the Community Relations Council Peter Osborne said the real need is not to simply hide the behaviour, but to change it.
"We all know that murals and flying flags on lamp posts can be intimidating and used to mark out territory," said Mr Osborne (left), the former Parades Commission chairman.
"While welcoming the idea of removing murals and flags from lamp posts on the route of the Giro d'Italia, it does remind me of a dysfunctional family who want to hide their behaviour when visitors come calling.
"I understand why there are calls to remove the flags and emblems and murals on the race route. Something is better than nothing.
"But for many people these things are an everyday reality not just on the route of the Giro d'Italia."
There have already been calls for European election posters to be removed during the race.
Ms Lo said: "The very same arguments that politicians have been making about taking down election posters to showcase Northern Ireland and our beautiful scenery, also applies to flags and paramilitary murals."
The Giro d'Italia is a long distance road bicycle race for professional cyclists that runs over three weeks. The Grande Partenza ('Big Start') section will take place from May 9-11, 2014, and involves routes through Belfast, the Causeway Coast and Armagh before moving on to Dublin. More than 200 of the top professional cyclists from across the globe will be in Northern Ireland to take part.