The DUP have rejected suggestions that all murals should be temporarily removed or covered up when the Giro d'Italia begins in Northern Ireland between the 9 and 11 May.
The DUP have rejected suggestions that all murals should be temporarily removed or covered up when the Giro d’Italia begins in Northern Ireland between the 9 and 11 May.
It comes despite the party coming out in support of proposals last week to ban election posters during the event.
Speaking on Monday, whilst welcoming moves to remove posters during the event, Alliance MLA and the party’s Environment spokesperson, Anna Lo went further, calling for the removal of flags and paramilitary murals.
“The very same arguments that politicians have been making about taking down election posters to showcase Northern Ireland and our beautiful scenery, also applies to flags and paramilitary murals.
“Funding will be made available in towns along the route to improve the image of eyesores such as derelict buildings but I have a bigger problem with images of paramilitary gunmen. Do we really want these images to be visible on the route when millions of people will be watching the race on television? Why would we spend money on improving derelict buildings but not deal with threatening and intimidating paramilitary murals?
“If all parties agree to take down election posters, then we should also look to take down the flags that are on the same lamp posts. People are tired of flags being used to mark territory and intimidate local people. This is not the image that we want to be sending out to the world during such a prestigious event.”
Her comments, however, have now been rebuffed by the DUP. Pressed in the Northern Ireland Assembly on the issue yesterday, the party’s enterprise minister Arlene Foster responded:
“Murals are part of a cultural expression across Belfast and Northern Ireland, and I think that it would be sad if visitors to Northern Ireland could not engage in appreciating the rich cultural heritage that we have here. Paramilitary murals should of course be taken down; they should never have gone up. However, I must say that pronouncements from here will not solve that; working with communities will.”
The debate comes amidst ongoing wrangling over how to tackle thorny issues around the flying of flags, parading and the past in the wake of the failure of the Haass talks.
But Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council, warned that whilst welcoming moves to remove intimidating objects and displays, a danger exists that Northern Ireland is fast becoming a dysfunctional family keen to cover over its. He commented:
“While welcoming the idea of removing murals and flags from lampposts on the route of the Giro d’Italia, it does remind me of a dysfunctional family who want to hide their behaviour when visitors come calling.
“I understand why there are calls to remove the flags and emblems and murals on the race route. Something is better than nothing.
“But for many people these things are an everyday reality not just on the route of the Giro D’Italia.
“The real need is not to simply hide the behaviour. The real need is to understand and change the behaviour to work toward a shared and reconciled society.”
It has since been reported that Ms Lo has faced a barrage of racist abuse for her suggestion.
Outlining its belief that the DUP are wrong to oppose the idea, the Belfast Telegraph’s editorial argues:
“Yet again an event which should be the jewel in our tourism crown this year is bedevilled by negative politics and vitriolic street level abuse. The Giro d’Italia cycle race is one of the great sporting events in Europe and it is a huge coup to bring a leg of it to Northern Ireland. It should bring in thousands of tourists and cycling fans who love the colour, the excitement and the sheer novelty of the event.
“But instead of unbridled celebration at the biggest sporting event ever to be staged here, there is nothing but discord. Alliance MLA Anna Lo made the entirely sensible suggestion that territorial flags, sectarian murals and election posters should be removed from the route of the race. There is nothing patriotic about flying tattered flags from lampposts or painting pictures of hooded gunmen on gable walls and certainly those images would do nothing to enhance the reputation of Northern Ireland to the millions watching the event on television around Europe.”
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“The DUP’s intervention now makes it seem like a trial of strength. Instead, politicians on all sides should be encouraging their communities to clean up their own streets, take pride in the appearance of where they live and promote a positive image of Northern Ireland.
“Is that really too much to ask when the benefits are so apparent?”