A huge bronze statue of a soldier due to be erected in Lisburn city centre has sparked controversy after nationalists branded it “insulting”.
The sculpture — a 19ft high memorial to Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) officers — has been criticised for being insensitive and intimidating to the city’s nationalist population, with people saying it could put off Catholics from shopping in the city.
The massive statue depicts a male UDR soldier holding a rifle in one hand, with his other hand up in what has been described as a ‘halt’ position, and a female |officer, or ‘Greenfinch’, holding a radio handset.
The forceful stance of the officers has further angered nationalists, with some saying it was all too reminiscent of the darkest days of the Troubles.
During its service, the UDR quickly gained a reputation of being sympathetic to loyalism. It was accused of collusion and a number of its members were implicated in the murder of Catholics.
The statue has been created by Whiteabbey sculptor John Sherlock, and is due to be erected in Market Square in the spring.
It was commissioned by the UDR Memorial Trust to form a “very substantial and fitting tribute to all those who served”.
The sculpture is described as being on a “heroic scale”, and will be erected on a Mourne granite plinth. Two years in the making, it is said to be 90% complete and will soon make the journey from Edinburgh, where it is being made, to Lisburn.
But it has caused controversy as it will stand in a prominent position on council-owned land.
Sinn Fein MLA Paul Butler said the statue will make nationalists feel unwelcome in the city.
“For a council to facilitate this on their land is totally wrong because a district council should be a neutral institution, shared by both communities, so they shouldn’t be associated with things like a UDR statue,” he said.
“Catholics will see this insulting and intimidating monument as reward for a regiment that was up to its neck in sectarian killings of nationalists.
“If the UDR Memorial Trust want to put up a statue to remember their officers, I think it’s fair enough, but they should put it in their barracks or offices — the council shouldn’t facilitate this.”
The Lagan Valley representative said there is “anger” among nationalists in the city about the decision made in November 2005 to put the statue on council land.
“It’s been difficult enough to encourage people from the Catholic community to shop in Lisburn, but things like this will do nothing to help,” he said.
“Planting a statue like this in the middle of Lisburn puts out a message that you’re not welcome.”
He said in a time of peace, when Northern Ireland is trying to move away from its violent past, erecting a statue of a man holding a gun is inappropriate and said it would send a “chill” through the nationalist community.
A statement from Lisburn City Council said it had formally agreed to a request from the Regimental Association to erect a national monument in the city centre in November 2005.
It said the plan “was subject to an equality impact assessment’’.