Infamous Belfast UDA murals disappear, but only so they can be repainted
Four of the most infamous murals in Belfast have disappeared - but they will be repainted exactly as they were, it can be revealed.
So-called Freedom Corner on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast comprised four murals and are some of the most instantly recognisable in Northern Ireland.
They have been on the gable walls for an estimated 35 years, depicting UDA symbols, gunmen, loyalist slogans and the crest of the Ulster Young Militants.
The iconic giant Samson and Goliath cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard form a dramatic backdrop to the murals.
However, over the past year the paintwork on the walls had started to peel badly.
Dee Stitt, of Charter NI - a community group which helps negotiate the re-imaging of murals - said the damage to the paintwork had been caused by police water cannon deployed during trouble at the nearby interface.
He confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that the murals were "owned" by the UDA and that the illegal paramilitary group was undertaking the work to repaint the images.
Although some 23 paramilitary murals in east Belfast are currently being re-imaged, Mr Stitt described the Freedom Corner murals as historic, and said there was no plans to remove them permanently.
"They are an internationally recognised tourist attraction," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"West Belfast tour guides even bring people over here to see them.
"The murals have been there for over 35 years, they are part of the fabric of east Belfast. They are never going to go away."
Mr Stitt explained that his group was not directly involved with the work at Freedom Corner.
"The UDA is involved in a re-imaging programme.
"Charter NI is currently involved in negotiating around 23 images - just not those four (Freedom Corner)," he said.
"They are an integral part of east Belfast, they are simply being repainted and freshened up.
"However, there are a number of other murals which are coming down, including several on Lord Street."
The UDA was formed in 1971 and claimed to be defending Protestant areas. The terrorist group the UFF is also associated with it. The UDA was finally outlawed in 1992.
It has officially been on ceasefire since October 1994 and ended its armed struggle in November 2007.
However, the group has been associated with several acts of violence since, including the murder of Brian 'Brick' McIlhagga in January, while police earlier this year blamed the group for a string of shootings and beatings across the north Antrim and Coleraine areas.
The Ulster Young Militants is seen as the youth wing of the UDA and has been heavily involved in street and interface violence in the area over the past number of years.
In 2014, the book The Belfast Mural Guide estimated that in Belfast alone, there were approximately 300 "quality" murals on display on the city's streets, with many other murals in varying degrees of age and decay.