Staff attack fears over removal of 1916 Easter Rising memorial in Lurgan
Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) staff have been warned they could be attacked if they attempt to remove an illegal Easter Rising memorial in Lurgan.
Anger is growing over the large structure, which consists of eight brick pillars and is intended to remember republicans who died "in the cause of Irish freedom".
It was illegally erected on Housing Executive land to coincide with the centenary of the 1916 revolt against British rule in Ireland.
Social Development Minister Lord Morrow said police told staff they could be attacked if they attempted to take it down.
"The safety of staff and contractors is paramount," he added. "Having consulted with the PSNI the NIHE believes that they could not guarantee their safety if an attempt was made to remove this structure."
The monument, described by Republican Sinn Fein (RSF) as a "memorial garden" is being built in the Lurgantarry estate.
RSF said the site had been "carefully chosen on reclaimed land". However, Lord Morrow said it was on Housing Executive land.
"It has recently been built without planning permission or the approval of the NIHE," he added. "No one approached the Housing Executive seeking permission, and it would not have supported a memorial of this nature. The local Housing Executive office was made aware of the memorial a month ago."
Lord Morrow was responding to an Assembly question from Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, who said monuments glorifying terrorism must be challenged. "It's so clear that the ripples of hurt continue for so many families across Northern Ireland," she added. "Monuments like this only further compound that hurt.
"A do-nothing approach sends out entirely the wrong signal. Lurgan has borne the brunt of the acts of republican terrorists and many in the community had hoped that these acts had been confined to the dustbin of history.
"I will be writing to the Secretary of State because if the PSNI can't guarantee the safety of staff to remove this structure, she has a responsibility to step forward."
The structure is in memory of Edward Costello - a Lurgan republican who died during the 1916 Rising - among others
Republican Sinn Fein said: "We hope the completion of this memorial garden will go some way in honouring Ireland's patriot dead."
A similar row broke out over an IRA memorial built without planning permission in Co Tyrone.
The stone monument appeared at Hillview Park estate in Castlederg in 2013 and is still there.