Is it appropriate for clergy to be in attendance when statues to dead terrorists are unveiled?
Charles Dickens wrote A Tale Of Two Cities, but this is “a tale of three memorials” — and all within two miles of each other in north Belfast.
Last week black paint was poured over a memorial to the three Scottish soldiers who were murdered by the Provisional IRA on March 10, 1971. They were gunned down by an IRA death squad from the Ardoyne area and their bodies left lying at the side of a country road.
Today there is a small roadside memorial at White Brae, where the soldiers were killed, and it has often been attacked. This time the target was a much larger memorial, close to Ballysillan Park, and paint was poured over it.
Two of the soldiers were brothers, who were only 17 and 18, and the third soldier was just 23. They were off-duty when they were picked up by their killers, and the coroner described it as “one of the vilest crimes ever heard of in living memory”. Moreover, no one has ever been charged or convicted.
Then, on Sunday, November 6, another memorial was unveiled, at Herbert Street, by the Ardoyne Bone Ligoniel Heritage Association. The ceremony was preceded by a republican parade through Ardoyne to the new memorial and it was led by a uniformed colour party with three republican bands.
The site was leased to the association by the Housing Executive for the creation of a community “garden of reflection”, and there are restrictive clauses in the lease as to its use.
However, one of the features is a memorial to people who were killed during the Troubles, including a central panel that records the names of members of the IRA.
Indeed, the second name on the panel is ‘Oglach’ (Volunteer) Paddy McAdorey, who was “locally reputed” to have been one of three IRA men who killed the three Scottish soldiers. The Shankill bomber, ‘Oglach’ Thomas Begley, is also named.
When this “garden of reflection” was first mooted in the Press some time ago I raised the issue with the Housing Executive, because I suspected that it would become another republican memorial rather than a garden of reflection.
Furthermore, I asked for any lease to include clauses that would prevent this happening. Sadly, those concerns have now become a reality.
It is clear that the memorial has considerable support in the area, and the main speaker at the unveiling was Gerry Kelly MLA, while veteran republican Joe Austin, Shankill bomber Sean Kelly and Fr Gary Donegan, former rector at Holy Cross, stood nearby.
Nevertheless, it has been erected without planning permission and in breach of the lease. It is, therefore, an issue for the Housing Executive, the Planning Service and, indeed, for Sinn Fein.
Now, another memorial has been proposed by Fr Donegan, who still carries out work in the area. The proposed location is somewhere near the junction of the Crumlin Road and the Woodvale Road and, according to newspaper reports, he wants to build “a memorial to all victims of the Troubles” — including members of republican and loyalist paramilitary groups (I say “according to newspaper reports” because I first became aware of this when I read about it earlier this week in newspapers).
All of this raises two issues for me. The first is that anyone seeking to promote a project such as this, especially in a contentious or contended, area, should surely come and talk to local politicians who work in and represent the area? Is that not a sensible approach before going public?
The second issue is the stark contrast between the presence of the priest at the unveiling ceremony in Ardoyne and the approach of many Protestant churchmen to controversial issues.
I am not saying who is right and neither am I saying who is wrong.
I am simply highlighting the contrast, because it is one that deserves to be discussed with Protestant and Catholic churchmen, face to face, possibly over that proverbial “cup of coffee”.