Protestants 'intimidated' by 10ft statue of armed terrorist in Derry cemetery
'Sinister' paramilitary sculpture under fire as graveyard tours considered
A DUP councillor has claimed Protestants are being deterred from visiting a cemetery because of a large statue of an armed paramilitary that forms part of a republican monument.
The statue was erected at the top of the City Cemetery in Londonderry in 2000 by the Irish Republican Socialist Party in tribute to its members who died during the Troubles.
Derry City and Strabane District Council has discussed running tours of the cemetery, but councillor Graham Warke said that while he recognised their potential, people from a unionist background would be put off because of the statue.
"There are members of my family buried in the City Cemetery, as there are many other Protestants' families," he added.
"I know many of them do find the presence of a 10ft statue of an armed terrorist intimidating. A cemetery is suppose to be a place of tranquillity and reflection, but being overlooked by a sinister statue of a republican terrorist adds nothing to that experience if you are a member of my community visiting the graves of your loved ones.
"I recognise the rich history of people from both communities within the cemetery, but it is 2016 and we are supposed to be moving forward.
"A 10ft statue of an armed terrorist isn't included in my vision of a shared city.
"I actually think a lot of Catholics who have loved ones buried near this statue also feel uncomfortable about it.
"No one is trying to deny there are not people buried in the cemetery as a result of the Troubles or indeed the two world wars or that their story should not be told as part of our shared history.
"I just think that this statue sends out the message that the City Cemetery is a cold place for anyone from the Protestant community.
"My point is that as long as this intimidating statue is there, the full potential of this project will not be reached."
The City Cemetery, which dates back to 1853, has fallen victim to increased antisocial behaviour and vandalism in recent months.
The council asked local historian Seamus Breslin to explore the potential of operating tours of the cemetery and the impact it could have on the city.
When he looked at other places offering tours, he found there was a decrease in vandalism.
SDLP councillor John Boyle said these benefits should be the focus of any discussions. "The proposed project by Seamus Breslin has shown that in places such as Glasnevin, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where tours of cemeteries are offered, there has been decrease in anti-social behaviour and vandalism," he explained.
"This is an opportunity for educating people and for teaching our young people about their own local history.
"And after the number of times we have witnessed vandalism in the cemetery, a bit of education could go a long way.
"I think this is where our focus should be, but having said that I do understand where Graham Warke is coming from when he said people from the Protestant community would not feel comfortable with this statue.
"There are issues around that particular statue, but these could only be addressed by the group that erected the monument.
"The other thing we must remember is that everybody has their own way of commemorating their dead, and that has to be respected too."