'Disgrace' as UDA accused of hijacking memorial to war heroes
Angry south Belfast residents have accused loyalist paramilitaries of hijacking a First World War memorial in order to commemorate UFF killers.
There has been an angry backlash to a UDA parade that included the laying of wreaths below a plaque bearing the names of five loyalist terrorists.
The plaque had been attached below a permanent memorial to soldiers killed in the Great War. A banner with pictures of UFF men Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder was also placed in the garden.
The contentious parade, consisting of hundreds of marchers, made its way along the Ormeau Road to the memorial garden at Annadale Flats.
The garden was originally given £11,000 funding by the Housing Executive, which said it provided the money after residents requested an alternative to UFF imagery in the area.
A number of those living close to the memorial garden yesterday accused people from outside the area of hijacking the garden the previous evening. "They come in and take over," one said.
"The area is full of UDA flags too, but what can you do? Most people keep their heads down – but you shouldn't have to."
A neighbour added: "It's a disgrace to have this place all over the news. It's a quiet area. What happened last night was the hijacking of this street and the garden."
The Ulster Unionist Party was critical of the UDA event.
"We do not support any project which celebrates terrorism or criminality being funded with public money and we don't support the glorification of terrorism," a spokesman said.
"Tom Elliott MLA is bringing forward a Private Member's Bill at Stormont which would ban publicly-funded property being named after convicted terrorists. Hopefully Tom will get cross-party support on that."
Elder and Bratty were shot dead by the IRA 20 years ago. The security forces believe they were involved in up to 20 murders during the Troubles.
The Housing Executive yesterday said it provided £11,000 to a community group in the Annadale area as part of a re-imaging project. It said the garden subsequently constructed remembers those killed in the First World War, not members of the UDA.
"The garden at Annadale and commemorative plaque was funded by the Housing Executive and designed to commemorate the First World War centenary. It was completed two months ago and we have had no complaints about the garden," it said.
"There is no sectarian or paramilitary imagery in the garden. This was supported by the Housing Executive, as it replaced a large paramilitary memorial and was seen to be a key part of re-imaging this neighbourhood.
"A parade took place last night and we understand a separate plaque was brought into the garden – it is not a permanent fixture and was taken away again.
"The Housing Executive was not aware and had no involvement in the parade and would not have sanctioned the additional imagery that was placed in the garden."
The Housing Executive said the permanent plaque in the garden – headed 'Remember The Fallen' – contains images of poppies "which are a symbol of remembrance of the world wars".
Sinn Fen councillor Deirdre Hargey said residents were "shocked" the parade had gone ahead without any restrictions.
"It beggars belief that, given the attention recently given to the flags issue in the area and dramatically changed demographics, that this parade was not deemed as sensitive by the Parades Commission or the PSNI," she said.
A spokesman for the Orange Order said: "The Orange Institution did not organise, nor was involved in, the parade."
Alan McBride, whose wife was murdered in the Shankill bombing in 1993, said memorial events must be staged with the feelings of victims in mind. "I do believe when you have parades and speeches and plaques and all this sort of thing and the media are there and the whole thing is talked up, I think it becomes something that is triumphalist and that does cause some offence," he said. "So, for me it's not about whether we remember or not, it's how we remember, and I have to say the same about the parade last night on the Ormeau Road."