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IRA atrocity banners in Belfast's Cantrell Close 'a grotesque whataboutery'

By Jonathan Bell

Banners marking atrocities carried out by the IRA erected around a shared housing estate in Belfast have been described as "grotesque whataboutery" by a man who lost two relatives in the Shankill bombing.

The banners around Cantrell Close and Global Crescent depict atrocities including the La Mon bombing, Ballymacarrett murder, Bloody Friday, the Mountainview tavern bombing as well as the Shankill and Enniskillen bombings.

All carry the hashtag 'Stand up against sectarianism' - which had been used by Sinn Fein during its election campaign last year.

The area has come under the spotlight after last year families in the area moved out of their homes after UVF flags were erected around the area.

Last month loyalist flags were removed. The East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI) said it had agreed a protocol on the flying of flags in the area. However, later flags were erected in the Ravenhill Avenue area which were said to have been put up outside the protocol and by an "unconnected private individual".

The latest banners have been erected by local members of the community with the support of EBCI.

Alan McBride of Wave Trauma Centre lost his wife and father-in-law in the Shankill bombing. He described the placing of the banners around the area as "very disappointing" and he saw it as "scoring points". He said he believed victims were being used.

He told the BBC Stephen Nolan Show: "It is very disappointing that [the Shankill bombing] which was so appalling - nine innocent families bereaved -  that their atrocity is being used in this way to score points.

"It's the same thing every year. This is grotesque and just jumping on a bandwagon. It is completely selective. I am sure there is no reference to Greysteel for example which happened the week after the Shankill and was equally appalling. It is whataboutery."

He added: "It reminds me of the Northern Ireland I really don't want any part of. We have to remember these events, but it has to be done respectfully.

"On the Shankill Road there is a peace garden... there's a plaque at the site of Frizzell's if people want to go and pay their respects but not in this grotesque whataboutery kind of way which is very much I think the reason behind these banners."

Gina Murray who lost her daughter supported the banners and said there was no reason for other atrocities carried out by loyalists to be placed alongside them. She said she received a copy of the banner before it was erected around the shared housing estate.

"It is good, it reminds people we are still there... it serves as a reminder of what happened in this country," she added.

SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said the banners were a "political stunt".

"All of those events were sectarian, disgusting and utterly unjustifiable - but so was the actions of the Glenanne gang, the Loughinisland massacre, the Miami Showband, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.

"Plenty want justice for all victims and this is not the way to go about it. What good does this do?

"There are handprints drenched in blood. How will anyone explain that to their children?

"This just makes a complete nonsense of self-regulation of flags. Have we now sectarian-ised anti-sectarianism?"

Jamie Bryson, who speaks on behalf of the EBCI, said that as the lampposts had generated so much attention it was felt "the most positive way to highlight the sectarian campaign waged by the IRA against the Protestant people".

He said not all families involved were consulted on the matter but rather it was intended to be a "factual depiction of historic events".

"There is a very clear imbalance in terms of the legacy and in terms of a one-sided narrative of the past taking hold and now was a good opportunity to talk about the actions of the IRA.

"Who on earth could be offended by these very factual banners?"

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “There are many differing views amongst victims within the unionist community, that is why the names of those who lost their lives were not included in the banners, and instead they depicted factual images from the IRA’s sectarian terror campaign.”

Police and Radius Housing have been approached for comment.

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