Belfast Telegraph

Murals aren't tourist attractions, just loyalists marking territory

A gun on the UFF mural in the Newtownwards Road area of east Belfast
A gun on the UFF mural in the Newtownwards Road area of east Belfast
The mural being repainted at ‘Freedom Corner’ in east Belfast
Cyclists pass the mural during a time trial for last year’s Giro d’Italia

By Laurence White

It is difficult for any right thinking person to miss the irony of repainting a mural depicting a gunman at the inaptly named Freedom Corner on Newtownards Road in east Belfast.

These are apparently UDA-owned murals first painted more than 30 years ago when the province was a much different place, still in the grip of the Troubles which had developed into a vicious tit-for-tat killing spree.

But most people in Northern Ireland have moved on, putting their faith in politics from which the gun is absent.

Yet that obviously doesn't mean anything to the UDA, an organisation which continues to enslave the working class areas in which it flourishes, offering young people no future.

To say that these murals are tourist attractions is disingenuous. They are simply a barrier to investment. What company in its right mind would want to put its hard-earned funds into an area perceived to be under the control of a paramilitary gang?

The UDA may claim that it has agreed to the re-imaging of 23 other murals. That is a positive move but the impetus should be to remove all terror images, not restore some of them.

Even re-imaging is not always a success. The UVF painted over a mural of east Belfast hero George Best in 2013, replacing him with the portrait of a masked gunman. And that was despite a public outcry.

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Republicans, of course, have their own relics of the past on gable walls in their heartlands, but as ever they are a good bit cuter. Probably the most photographed set of murals in the province, the so-called International Wall on Belfast's Divis Street, depicts iconic images from the republicans' version of history along with nods to such diverse struggles as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the campaign to free Leonard Peltier, a Native-American jailed nearly three decades ago for the murder of two FBI officers.

To the casual tourist, republicans must seem like international campaigners for justice while loyalists are still stuck in our murky past and addicted to terror.

All the organisations claim that murals are a pictorial historical record but they are a very partial revisionist history. Where, for example, are the murals depicting the informers or the slaughter of the innocents killed by both republicans and loyalists?

Returning to east Belfast, there are plenty of heroes who could adorn the gable walls - for example, footballers George Best or Derek Dougan or singer Van Morrison. They would be positive images of the area that spawned them and real role models for the youth there to seek to emulate instead of the paramilitary gangs who may write 'Freedom Corner' on the wall but it is a freedom only on their terms.

Belfast Telegraph


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