Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

How can we move on while memorials to terror keep appearing?

Call for end to paramilitary tributes

Thomas Begley was responsible for the Shankill bombing in October 1993 which killed nine people and himself
A new mural of former IRA sniper and Sinn Fein politician Martin Meehan aiming a rifle was branded "an insult" last year
YCV paramilitary mural in the Village, Belfast
YCV paramilitary mural in the Village, Belfast

Memorials to terror groups and paramilitary killers can no longer be tolerated if Northern Ireland is to move forward, it has been warned.

There was a furious response to the erection of a banner to commemorate UVF killer Wesley Somerville in Moygashel, near Dungannon, earlier this week.

Somerville, who was also in the UDR, and another UVF terrorist died alongside three members of the Miami Showband in 1975 when their bomb exploded prematurely.

The move came one week after controversy around a mural to IRA hunger striker Kieran Doherty showing masked gunmen appeared close to Casement Park in Belfast.

Last night the head of a body set up to promote better community relations said there was no place in modern society for sinister memorials which he said caused fear and intimidation.

Community Relations Council chief Peter Osborne said in order to tackle contentious symbolism, a united approach by political leaders was required.

"I think people have to reflect on why they want to erect these symbols," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"If the intent or the consequence is for people from other communities or from within that community feel intimidated, then it shouldn't happen.

"I think there's no doubt if you put on a mural an image of a masked gunman or an event during which people lost their lives, then that will create a mindset for people to feel intimidated or harassed."

Mr Osborne said recent reports showed the majority of people in communities in which controversial images were situated did not support them.

"I'm fully supportive of people expressing their culture. However, their expression of that culture needs to be in a way that is not intimidating, marking out territory, disrespectful to other communities, and obviously needs to be lawful," he said.

"In terms of some of the murals, the purpose of those seems to intimidate or mark out territory. In Northern Ireland in 2014 we really need to lower our threshold where we tolerate that sort of thing."

The transformation of paramilitary murals that once loomed over many Northern Ireland housing estates has been a work in progress for some years now.

Paramilitary murals were painted to depict history, political views and to mark territory. In recent years many have been replaced under a Government scheme to redecorate walls with more welcoming images. Some have been preserved, having become tourist attractions

Earlier this year police launched an investigation after a barrage of racist insults were directed at Alliance MLA Anna Lo over divisive symbols during the Giro d'Italia. Ms Lo spoke out amid fears Northern Ireland's image would be tarnished by the sight of emblems and paramilitary murals.

Last October the parents of Shankill bomber Thomas Begley said they did not want a controversial plaque commemorating their son. Anger erupted over the tribute, which was unveiled three days before the 20th anniversary of the massacre.

Begley died and nine others, all Protestants, were killed when the bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely at Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road on October 23, 1993.

Begley's elderly father Billy said the plaque had been organised by former "comrades" of his son – but that the family would have preferred to have a private memorial.

"If it had been us, we'd have just gone to the chapel and then up to the cemetery and that would have been it," he said.

"We'd have just gone to the chapel and had a Mass said for him, said a few prayers and brought a few flowers to the grave."

Controversial Loyalist and Republican murals and monuments

Loyalist:

1. Somerville:

A banner has been erected in Co Tyrone to UVF killer Wesley Somerville. He and another UVF man, Harris Boyle, died along with three members of the Miami Showband in July 1975 when the bomb the terror gang was planting exploded prematurely.

A banner bearing his picture appeared in Moygashel near Dungannon in recent days.

Anne Cadwallader from the Pat Finucane Centre called on those who erected the poster to remove it voluntarily.

Ms Cadwallader said: "This banner, blatantly commemorating a mass murderer, cannot do the reputation of the village of Moygashel any good – especially after last week's threat to landlords if they rent property to people from outside the area."

A DUP spokesman said: "The DUP opposes any glorification of terrorism. It doesn't matter whether it is loyalist or republican."

2. Bangor garden:

In 2009 the decision to award £70,000 of public money to a Co Down paramilitary memorial garden was met with fury.

Ulster Unionist MP Lady Hermon told of her outrage after discovering the Department for Social Development had funded a loyalist memorial garden in Bangor's Kilcooley estate.

The garden houses three black granite stones, which each bear the insignia of a loyalist paramilitary organisation and names of local members who died during the Troubles.

3. Brian Robinson:

The Shankill Star Flute Band in Belfast carries a Lambeg drum dedicated to the memory of Brian Robinson, a UVF terrorist who shot Paddy McKenna dead at Ardoyne in 1989.

Robinson was shot dead by a female soldier who had just witnessed him fire 11 bullets into his Catholic victim.

There is also a Brian Robinson memorial parade in Belfast in September, and a mural.

4. Stephen McKeag:

Murals and banners have been erected paying tribute to UDA killer Stephen McKeag.

McKeag is believed to have carried out more than a dozen murders, and was one of the most dangerous men in Ulster throughout the 1990s.

Among his terrorist operations came one – just three days before Christmas 1991 – when a massacre on the scale of Greysteel two years later was only avoided because gunmen were armed with faulty ammunition.

5. UVF mural:

A new paramilitary mural depicting a masked gunman replaced a mural of the Belfast-born footballer George Best last year.

It was dedicated to the UVF, which murdered more than 500 people during the Troubles.

Work on the mural was suspended due to a public outcry, but was finished weeks later.

6. UFF gunmen:

A huge UFF mural was beamed to the world as cyclists passed it during May's Giro d'Italia.

It was one of two painted in 2011 along the Newtownards Road. Both depict balaclava-clad loyalists clutching machine-guns.

One image is accompanied with: "We are the pilgrims, master; we shall go always a little further." The slogan is accompanied by three armed men in military fatigues.

Republican:

1. Castlederg:

An IRA memorial was built in Castlederg last year to commemorate the deaths of republicans from the area.

They included the names of the two IRA men who died when the bomb they were transporting exploded prematurely in 1973.

The huge stone structure commemorates "those in the Castlederg and Aghyaran area dedicated to the cause of Irish freedom".

The erection of the memorial and staging of a repubican parade was met with fury by unionists and families of IRA victims.

2. McCreesh park:

The Equality Commission criticised Newry and Mourne Council for retaining the name of a children's play park called after an IRA hunger striker.

It was originally named after Raymond McCreesh in 2001, but the council voted to retain the name in December 2012.

McCreesh, from Camlough in south Armagh, was one of 10 IRA prisoners who died in 1981.

In June 2012 McCreesh was linked to the IRA murders of 10 Protestant men by an Historical Enquiries Team investigation into the 1976 Kingsmills massacre.

The victims were all textile workers who were travelling home from their factory in south Armagh when IRA gunmen ambushed their minibus.

3. Begley plaque:

Thomas Begley was responsible for the Shankill bombing in October 1993 which killed nine people and himself.

He was carrying the device into a shop when it exploded prematurely. The bomber's father unveiled a plaque during the commemoration ceremony, which was organised by Begley's friends last year.

Some of Begley's victims criticised the commemoration, saying it has added to their grief.

Among his victims were two children aged seven and 13.

4. INLA statue:

The erection of an INLA sculpture in Derry City cemetery sparked outrage.

The statue was commissioned by the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which is linked to the INLA.

It shows a man in paramilitary dress and holding an assault rifle.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell (right) previously said of it: "One of the worst terrorist atrocities in the entire history of the Troubles was by the INLA, 12 miles from the city cemetery, in Ballykelly," he said.

"A total of 17 people were murdered by an INLA bomb in the Droppin' Well bar in 1982."

5. Meehan mural:

A new mural of former IRA sniper and Sinn Fein politician Martin Meehan aiming a rifle was branded "an insult" last year.

Meehan was the first person to be convicted of membership of the Provisional IRA.

The prominent republican, who led the IRA in north Belfast's Ardoyne, died in 2007 from a heart attack.

Meehan's family held a commemoration in Ardoyne, followed by the unveiling of the mural.

The mural was described as a "backward step" for community relations.

6. Doherty mural:

Last week a mural featuring hooded IRA gunmen appeared close to the GAA's flagship Casement Park venue in Belfast. It features several hooded gunmen standing over the coffin of IRA hunger striker Kieran Doherty.

A Sinn Fein spokesman described it as a "refreshing" of a previous mural of Doherty, who died in the Maze Prison in 1981.

He grew up on a street nearby.

The painting is a reproduction of a photograph of Doherty's funeral when a volley of shots was fired over his coffin at Commedagh Drive.

In August 1976, while out to set a bomb, the van he was in was chased by the police.

During the chase Doherty managed to leave the van and hijack a car, but was caught as he was escaping.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz