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Villiers to raise issue of illegal 1916 memorial in Lurgan with police chief

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 19/04/2016

Talks: Theresa Villiers at the 1916 exhibition in City Hall
Talks: Theresa Villiers at the 1916 exhibition in City Hall

Theresa Villiers is to raise complaints about an illegal Easter Rising memorial in Lurgan with the Chief Constable.

The Secretary of State said she shared concerns over the large stone structure in the town.

The monument, which remembers republicans who died "in the cause of Irish freedom", was built to coincide with the centenary of the 1916 rebellion.

Unionists have been angered by the shrine, which was erected without planning permission on Housing Executive land in the nationalist Lurgantarry Estate.

Police have warned of a security risk if staff attempt to interfere. Ulster Unionist election candidate Jo-Anne Dobson, who has called for its removal, has written to the Secretary of State on the matter.

Ms Villiers' response states that she will raise the issue with Chief Constable George Hamilton and Justice Minister David Ford.

"I share your concerns about this having been erected on land belonging to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) without their permission, and regarding the safety of NIHE staff or contractors who may seek to remove it," she wrote.

"I will reflect your concerns about the structure in Lurgantarry as part of my regular discussions with the Minister of Justice and the Chief Constable."

Republican Sinn Fein have described the structure, comprising eight brick pillars, as a "memorial garden".

It said it was "a fitting tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of Irish freedom over the past 100 years". The group said the site had been "carefully chosen on reclaimed land".

In her reply, Ms Villiers suggests anyone who is unhappy with the memorial should contact police.

"If you feel that an offence has been committed you may wish to contact the PSNI and request that they investigate the matter," she added.

"I note from the correspondence you shared with me that the NIHE is continuing to work collaboratively with the local community in order to find a solution to such problems.

"I hope this engagement is successful in securing a positive outcome."

Ms Dobson said she would keep the pressure on the PSNI to act over the memorial.

She added the matter could not be ignored.

"This issue cannot be allowed to simply slip under the radar, to do so is to open a Pandora's box whereby terrorist shrines could be erected safe in the knowledge that no official action would be taken to remove them," she said.

The Housing Executive confirmed the structure was built without its approval and did not have planning permission - but has not attempted to remove it.

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