Belfast Telegraph

'Hardliners' responsible for completing contentious mural

By Bob Malcolm

Behind the scenes negotiations are continuing after a UVF mural depicting a masked paramilitary gunman was painted over a tribute to George Best in Sydenham.

The image depicting a balaclava wearing gunman standing in front of the purple UVF flag, with a quote from Martin Luther King: "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed" was completed on Saturday.

The mural, on a Northern Ireland Electricity substation, was painted over an earlier image of east Belfast football legend George Best.

Belfast City Council gave the project for the George Best mural £1,500 three years ago. The fund was part of a city council Peace III project called 'Tackling the physical manifestations of sectarianism'.

Earlier this month the Best mural started to be painted over but due to public outcry about the subject matter, painting was temporarily suspended and negotiations began.

Work on the mural began again last week and on Saturday it was finished.

East Belfast PUP councillor Dr John Kyle blamed "hardliners".

He said: "I know that people have contacted me and said that they are not happy with it, it's not the sort of mural that they want, that it's a move backwards."

Robin Newton, DUP MLA, said: "The Inverary mural in memory of George Best was paid for by public money from Belfast ratepayers.

"It is therefore deeply disappointing that on the 50th anniversary of George Best's first game for Manchester United this mark of respect to his football skills is obliterated. All the more so that it should be done in the part of the city he called home."

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said: "The completion of this mural casts a sinister shadow over everything that is positive in east Belfast.

"Political representatives have rightly condemned the glorification of terrorism in recent weeks, and must be united and clear in their rejection of all murals of this kind - if we are to build a safe and inclusive society for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"There is much to learn from the peaceful activism of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who dedicated his life to non-violence and integration, but the placement of this quote alongside a masked gunman is perverse beyond belief.

"This mural is anti-civil rights and anti-east Belfast and should be replaced immediately."

NI Conservatives' co-chairman, Trevor Ringland said: "It is baffling why anyone would want to remove an image which celebrates local pride, sporting achievement and hope, with one evoking a dark and murderous past most people in Northern Ireland hope we have left behind.

"It makes it even more important that, as a society, we challenge organisations like the UVF and the IRA that are attempting to celebrate their disgraceful, criminal pasts. We need to dispel the myth that they defended people or areas."

Norman McNarry, who is married to George's sister Barbara, said: "Any replacement of a mural of George by that of a paramilitary figure is something I would view with regret."

In 2008, a UVF mural in Dee Street was painted over with a scene from the Chronicles Of Narnia, not far from where the author CS Lewis was born.

However just three years later, two new UVF murals depicting gunmen appeared nearby. While concern was expressed about them, they still remain.

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