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Government funded loyalist memorial garden in Kilcooley

A Loyalist memorial garden in the Kilcooley estate has caused controversy after it was claimed government funding was given to those behind the project.

Three black stones bear the names of a paramilitary group and the names of paramilitaries killed in the Troubles at the garden which was unveiled last week during a prayer service.

Three men, representing the three main loyalist paramilitary organisations and political bodies, including Frankie Gallagher from the Ulster Political Research Group, gave short speeches dedicating the new garden and highlighting the sense of unity the garden displayed during the service.

North Down MLA, Stephen Farry, said he has written to the Department for Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie, to clarify the role of her department in funding the Garden of Reflection in the Bangor estate which cost an estimated £74,000.

“I am deeply concerned about this memorial garden. It is a glorification of terrorism and is something that has been imposed upon the local community,” Mr Farry said.

“No doubt people want to remember those that have died, including those that have been caught up in terrorism, but any celebration of the activities of paramilitaries from any side is completely inappropriate.

“I am further concerned that this has been funded by the Department for Social Development, through the Housing Executive. Agencies across Northern Ireland are already struggling to deal with similar loyalist and republican memorials, but it beggars believe that the public purse would actually be used to fund something like this, particularly given the existing pressures on the housing budget.”

Local community worker Mark Gordon said the memorial was “dedicated to the memory of those loved ones who have given their lives in wars, conflicts and the ‘Troubles’, to preserve our freedoms”.

“One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter,” he said.

“Why is it that when loyalists within this community choose to honour their dead that suddenly there's an uproar?”

The Department for Social Development said it was “deeply concerned by the erection of paramilitary emblems in the Kilcooley Garden of Reflection”.

“The department funds many projects and groups across Northern Ireland and unfortunately the memorial, as it stands at the moment, does not reflect the project’s original objectives of the removal of all sectarian symbols,” a spokesperson said.

“The department is currently working to ascertain why the paramilitary plinths are in the Garden of Reflection.”

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said: “Earlier this year a package of proposals was agreed between the Housing Executive and the ICCP (Intra-Community Cohesion Project) including the removal of specific sectional symbols in the Kilcooley area.

“Agreement had been reached that the Garden of Reflection would have no paramilitary connotations. We are clearly very concerned that the full funding conditions have not been met.

“The fact that the conditions for the Kilcooley Garden of Reflection have not been met demonstrates the difficulties which exist in helping communities to make the transition to a shared neighbourhood.”

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