Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Nuala McKeever: UDR statue shows our old habits die hard

Sculptor John Sherlock with his creation, a 19ft high bronze statue commemorating all who served with the UDR

I love a happy ending. Even when watching a film that I know is gonna turn out badly, I still sit in my seat, hoping against hope that maybe this time it’ll all come good.

Maybe this time Jesus will persuade Pilate to release him and off he’ll go and live out his days, fishing for women called Mary and Martha on the shores of Lake Galilee. Or maybe this time, Anne Boleyn will give birth to a healthy baby boy and Henry VIII will kiss her on the head instead of having it lopped off in a fit of petulant spite and male inadequacy.

So I’m a romantic at heart. Which is why, when I read that Prince Charles’ visit to St Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast marks a “new era” for Belfast, I really want that to be the case.

He came, he met a priest and a First Minister in the same place at the same time and no-one was smote or smitten or turned into a pile of ashes. So far, so good.

Charles listened to the curate describe the refurbishments the church has undergone in the past few years. Not a single off-colour remark was uttered about altar boys or unsavoury shenanigans in the sacristy. Progress.

Just a short distance from the Church of the Royal Visit, there’s a plaque to a dead IRA man. But no-one protested against the heir to the big chair’s presence in such staunchly republican territory. Hey, it’s getting positively Summer-of-Love-ish round here!

So maybe it does mark the beginning of something positive. It’s symbolic and as we know, symbolic events are very important here.

Which is why it seems rather odd that just up the road in the city of Lisburn, a 19-foot high statue of a UDR man is due to be erected on council property in the centre of the town — sorry, city. (Old habits die hard — see start of this paragraph )

Never mind the size of the thing — at 19 ft, by my reckoning, that’s 3.3 times the height of yer average male in NI (they’re on the short side here, trust me, I’ve stood in bars in town and seen clearly over the heads of 90% of the men and I’m 5ft 8in) — the pose of the man is not what you’d call friendly. He’s got a big gun in one hand and his other hand is held aloft in a “Halt” pose.

It’s huge, it’s aggressive and, if you want to talk symbolic, it’s saying “NO!”. Not very “new era”.

But wait, there is a woman in it, so maybe that’s progress? Eh, not really. There is a woman, but she’s standing behind the man, with a radio in her hand. He’s holding back the hordes, she’s having a chat. Maybe showing her making the tea would have cost too much. (On the bright side, they could probably get Gray and Keyes to unveil it, now they’re not so busy.)

But perhaps the most depressing thing about it all is the fact that objectors to the statue say it will offend Catholics. Why? Because Catholics were murdered by the UDR.

So, the murder of Catholics is only offensive to other Catholics, is that what we’re saying? Even if it’s what they’re thinking, the fact people say it out loud speaks volumes about how little we’ve moved on.

Brave new era indeed.

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