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Fury at political signs on Black Mountain

BY REBECCA BLACK

Published 26/04/2014

The 'One Ireland One Vote' sign on Black Mountain
The 'One Ireland One Vote' sign on Black Mountain

Politicians have united in anger over messages that have appeared on one of Belfast's most stunning landscapes.

A 60ft high sign reading 'One Ireland One Vote' appeared on Black Mountain this week.

It is the latest in a series of political messages on the mountainside over the years.

The message was put up by a small dissident republican group called the 1916 Societies.

North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey branded the sign not just a blot on the landscape, but "another backward-looking message".

And senior Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh has urged those behind the slogans to stop, slating them as unsightly.

But not even the First and Deputy First Ministers have been able to stop the signs blight.

While the National Trust owns the top of the mountain, it does not own the field on the front of the mountain where the slogans appear. The land is understood to be owned privately by a farmer.

The National Trust and the Belfast Hills Partnership, which promote the landscape, have slammed the signs, but said they were powerless to remove them.

Mountain warden Dermot McCann said he would prefer if the messages were not put up.

He receives scores of complaints about the signs – including from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) – demanding their removal, but he can do nothing as they are not on National Trust land.

"People tend to think it is on National Trust property, and every time a sign goes up we get lots of the public complaining," he said.

"We have even had the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister complaining about it, and we just have to say it's not our ground.

"We do get a load of complaints about it. Personally, I don't like it at all, I think the mountain shouldn't be touched."

A PSNI spokesman said no offence had been committed. But a Department of the Environment spokeswoman said such a sign required planning permission

"The sign which has appeared on falls within the definition of an advertisement as defined in The Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and requires express consent under the Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992," she said.

"The department has not received an application for consent to display the sign and will investigate the matter further."

She added previous signs on the mountain also did not have permission, but were removed without the department taking formal action.

Mr McVeigh conceded that his party had been behind some of the messages in the past, but he said he was against them now.

"It's nothing to do with Sinn Fein," he said. "It's a very small number of people who probably sold out years ago for various reasons who are now involved in this myriad of small groups, like the 1916 Societies.

"I personally think it's time that everyone stops putting these signs up on the mountain, including ourselves.

"We had done it in the past, for the hunger strikes for example.

"Then you have people putting things up about the mountain like environmental stuff, then the political stuff too.

"But I just think it is about time for everyone to stop putting stuff up; it's not particularly aesthetic looking, and in some cases the stuff is left up there to blow away, which isn't a pretty sight."

Mr Humphrey added: "Sinn Fein's campaign for a border poll was quickly ditched when their economic illiteracy and policy vacuum was exposed.

"It is unlikely that the 1916 Societies have any greater strategy or policy to take forward.

"It is time that everyone focused on building a prosperous and united Northern Ireland rather than the pointless pipe-dream of a united Ireland when opinion polls are showing Northern Ireland's place in the Union is more secure than ever."

In a statement yesterday the Belfast branch of the 1916 Societies said the sign was timed to mark 98 years since Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the steps of the GPO in Dublin, marking the start of the Easter Rising.

"Our activists took to the hills above Belfast to bring our campaign to the people of the city and beyond," a spokesman said.

"That campaign is One Ireland, One Vote and we ask the people of Ireland on this, the 98th anniversary of the Proclamation, to lend their support to this worthy cause going forward."

The same slogan has also appeared at a number of other sites across Fermanagh and Tyrone.

A natural resource... for those who want to put message across to a whole city

Divis Mountain, the highest of the distinctive peaks of the Belfast Hills, hosts a rich variety of grasslands, bogs and wildlife.

The 1,275ft slope is enjoyed by scores of walkers getting a taste of the countryside and stunning views just minutes from the bustling city centre.

However, the mountain is also host to a bizarre natural giant noticeboard.

From deriding US Presidents, to targeting the Queen, this natural beauty is regularly host to political messages.

It was a no go area during the Troubles when its peak was used by the British Army.

Now, despite having been handed back for public use, dissident republicans are making it infamous for political messages, jarring sharply with the giant steps forward Belfast has made away from its troubled past.

The Hatchet Field – so-called because of its distinctive shape – is the chosen spot for these messages, with its prominent position visible from across the city.

It is visible from Titanic Belfast, where in June 2012 the Queen visited just hours after making history by shaking the hand of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

As Her Majesty officially opened the new centre in the sunshine, the nationalist message 'Eriu Is Our Queen' daubed across the mountainside would have been impossible to miss (Eriu is the mythological goddess of Ireland).

That message sparked violence when a mob of loyalists ascended the Hatchet Field and tried to remove the sign.

At least one person was taken to hospital with injuries after rival factions clashed on the mountain.

Just two months later the words 'End Internment' were erected on the mountain as riots took place across the city in another grim reminder of the past.

The following June, as world leaders came to Fermanagh when we hosted the G8 summit for the first time, amid the excitement, others had a different message as the prominent guests were referred to as 'War Criminals'.

Previously, Divis was used to make a point aimed at the most powerful man on the globe during a visit to Northern Ireland – with the message 'No Bush'.

In June 2008, then US President George W Bush visited the province for an economic summit.

While the red carpet was rolled out for him by the establishment, that distinctly frostier message sent from the slopes of Belfast was a lot less welcoming for him.

During his visit Mr Bush praised the progress made in Northern Ireland over the past 10 years as "unimaginable" after meeting First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

And while former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher may have been a polarising figure, a message that appeared on Divis on the day of her funeral in April 2013 reading 'Thatcher The Real Criminal' would not have been a eulogy she would have appreciated, and it inevitably sparked outrage among unionists.

In the early 1980s Sinn Fein used the mountain as part of its campaign of support for the hunger strikers at the Maze Prison.

More recently it has moved away from the practice, and has now called on others to also desist from politicising what is a natural resource for us all.

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