Ivan Little: Bitter irony that posters have succeeded in doing what Provos couldn’t do - divide families who lost loved ones in atrocities
The bitter irony wasn't lost on terror victims yesterday as a series of banners erected by loyalists in south Belfast to remember IRA atrocities like the Shankill bomb did what the Provisionals couldn't do in years gone by - causing division among the families of the people who were killed.
Relatives who lost loved ones in the Shankill attack in 1993 were yesterday split into two camps - for and against the banners which have been put up by a group calling themselves the East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI).
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The professionally produced posters with photographs of terror scenes and a hand drenched in blood, have appeared on lampposts in the mixed Cantrell Close development which was built as a symbol of hope for shared housing off the Ravenhill Road.
"The Provos weren't able to cause disharmony among the families that they tore apart with their bombings. But now the loyalists who have been putting up the banners have succeeded in doing just that," said one community activist in south Belfast.
The rifts became apparent on yesterday morning's Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster and they widened during the day as the controversy over the banners intensified, with the Radius Housing Association which manages Cantrell Close calling for the images to come down.
On the radio, Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were among the nine innocent people who died in the Shankill bomb, was involved in a heated debate with loyalist activist Jamie Bryson.
Mr Bryson defended the banners, which highlight bombings and shootings carried out by the IRA in the likes of Enniskillen, at Kingsmills, at Teebane crossroads, on Bloody Friday and in London.
Mr McBride, who works for the Wave Trauma Centre, described the banners as "grotesque whataboutery" and said they were one-sided and selective because there were none to commemorate the outrages carried out by the UVF, the UDA or the Red Hand Commando during the Troubles.
Mr McBride said the display of the banners was "very disappointing" and accused the organisers of the campaign of using victims to score points.
Mr McBride said it was significant that there were no mentions on any of the posters to the UDA's Greysteel massacre which claimed seven lives just a week after the Shankill bomb.
Gina Murray, who lost her 13-year-old daughter Leanne in the Shankill attack, said she supported the banners because they weren't doing anyone any harm. But she saw no reason why killing perpetrated by loyalists shouldn't have been remembered too.
However, she said it was good that the banners were letting people know that the victims were still there and that they weren't going away. Ms Murray said she was consulted by the people behind the banner campaign.
"I was sent a copy of what was going to go up and I thought it would be a good idea," she said, adding that she was also informed that the banners were to be erected in a mixed area.
But Mr McBride, who said he respected Ms Murray and her views, revealed that no one from the EBCI contacted him. "Why weren't we all given copies?" he asked. Mr Bryson said he consulted Ms Murray because he had regular dialogue with her.
The posters have been placed in an area which was at the centre of controversy last year when Catholic families moved out after UVF flags were erected in the estate.
The banners which have replaced them on lamp posts in Cantrell Close also commemorate the 11 victims of the IRA's Enniskillen bomb in 1987. Aileen Quinton's mother Alberta was killed in the Remembrance Day blast. And last night her daughter said she had not been aware of the banners going up.
"But I think they are preferable to the UVF flags, especially ones which support the modern day organisation. I haven't seen the banners and so I don't know if they are tasteful or not."
She said she hadn't been contacted by anyone connected to the banner campaign. She added: "The first I knew of them was when I saw references to them on Facebook."
She went on: "Personally I wouldn't have any opposition in principle to anyone highlighting or reminding people about Greysteel.
"I have no problem with innocent victims being remembered across the board. "
She said she found other memorials to perpetrators of violence offensive. "I hear people talking about victims on both sides. To me the innocents are all on one side, the terrorists are all on the other."
A victim of another IRA atrocity who didn't want to be named said he felt uneasy about the banners being placed in a mixed area.
"They could have been put up in an area where no one would have batted an eyelid," they said.
"It would be naïve in the extreme to think that the people who chose where to erect the banners weren't exploiting the situation and making political capital.
"They say that they are trying to move away from the old flags and emblems which some people might have identified with paramilitary organisations. But really anyone who has argued that flags which support paramilitary groups are part of their culture really should try to find a new culture for themselves."
It's understood that Radius Housing have been having negotiations behind the scenes with the PSNI about the banners.
However, they have been told that the police have no power to take them down unless they pose a major risk to public safety.
In the meantime questions have been asked about the identities of the people behind the EBCI.
Mr Bryson said he speaks on their behalf but last night he denied speculation that the EBCI were linked to the UVF.
And he also said the organisation had not received funds from the terror organisation.
He said the reason why Cantrell Close had been singled out for the banners was because the area had received so much attention in the UVF flags row last year and it was felt "the most positive way to highlight the sectarian campaign waged by the IRA against the Protestant people".