Mural anger: Loyalist says mass killer McKeag a 'hero'
A senior loyalist has defended a new mural of a UDA member linked to 12 murders.
There was a furious backlash this week against the mural on a Housing Executive property in Belfast's lower Shankill area, which features an image of Stephen 'Top Gun' McKeag with the words "remember with pride".
Critics accused it of glorifying terrorism, and questions were also asked of the Housing Executive, which said it did not give permission for the mural, but has no plans to remove it.
However, Jim Wilson, an east Belfast community worker and former Red Hand Commando, called the criticism unfair and said many people still saw McKeag as a hero.
"He's a hero to certain people - no different than Bobby Sands would be a hero to a lot of republicans," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback.
"I don't regard him as a sectarian killer. I didn't say I regarded him as a hero. He was a soldier who thought he was right in the way he was fighting."
"I don't challenge the claim he's a hero because he's a hero to some people in the community."
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of McKeag's death after a drug overdose in 2000.
He earned the 'Top Gun' nickname for frequently being named the UDA's volunteer of the year, given to members who carried out the most murders.
On one occasion in September 1993, McKeag walked into a hairdresser's on the Donegall Road and killed owner Sean Hughes.
Asked if a mass murderer should really be remembered with pride, Mr Wilson replied: "Yes, I'm telling you there are plenty of mass murderers on the republican side who are involved in politics today. They're not on the walls, they're involved in politics... so let's get real about a mural dedicated to a loyalist."
But SDLP MLA Clare Hanna said: "I don't think it's something to celebrate, and I apply the same principle to all paramilitaries and all murals. I don't think this is someone to remember with pride. I regard it as a visual promotion of terrorism - I regard it as propaganda."
Journalist Hugh Jordan told Mr Wilson during the show: "There is nothing about Stephen McKeag worth remembering with pride. He was a drug user, a drug dealer, he was a mass murderer - 14 people at least are dead because of him. This mural is a backward step."
Mr Wilson then said: "Stephen McKeag was seen as a soldier fighting against republicans in his community."
But Ms Hanna added: "Or hairdressers."