DUP man calls for action over fresh IRA memorial

The new memorial garden at Butler Place in Ardoyne , north Belfast

The new memorial garden at Butler Place in Ardoyne , north Belfast

A DUP man has said a newly-built IRA memorial on publicly-owned land should be “eradicated”.

North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland hit out at the creation of the republican shrine in Butler Place, Ardoyne, on Housing Executive property.

Nelson McCausland MLA

Nelson McCausland MLA

One stone tablet commemorates a list of civilian Troubles fatalities.

But the monument’s central panel is devoted to IRA members.

Among the IRA names is Thomas Begley, one of those behind the 1993 Shankill bombing which claimed nine lives, plus his own.

Following a news report at the weekend, The Housing Executive confirmed to the News Letter that it began leasing the land to a group called the Ardoyne, Bone and Ligoniel Heritage Association in April 2014 for a period of 25 years, at a rent of £200 per year, “for use as a community garden only”.

At the time there was no structure on site, and the terms of the lease demanded there should not be “any development on that land”.

A planning application was then submitted to Belfast City Council in August 2015.

Whilst this stated that the group wanted to turn the land – which it described as an “overgrown, sloping open space” – into a community garden, it gave few details about what such a garden would actually contain.

The council has not yet decided whether to allow the application, so at present no permission for it exists.

Nonetheless, a trio of stone tablets have been built on the land, with a tricolour flying above them.

Among those in attendance at the launch event for this memorial on November 6 was bomber-turned-Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, and the party’s north Belfast Facebook page describes the piece of land as being a “commemoration garden” and a “lasting memorial to those who lost their lives during the conflict”.

Both the council (which is in charge of enforcing planning laws) and the Housing Executive are now investigating the matter.

Mr McCausland said it is “particularly disturbing” that the fresh paramilitary tribute was a Sinn Fein-backed one, rather than the work of dissident republicans operating in the area.

“There’s an issue here about enforcement by the planning service regarding the construction of a structure, a memorial, without permission,” he said.

“There’s also an issue for the Housing Executive as to the future of this.

“And my view is the land should now just be taken back off them and the whole thing eradicated.”

He will meet the Housing Executive and planners in the days ahead, he added, and “we will be expecting action”.

He said he was particularly disappointed about the development because it had come despite “assurances” from the Housing Executive that it would not be used for paramilitary purposes.

The Housing Executive meanwhile said that it had no foreknowledge about what the design for the memorial garden would be.

In recent weeks, the News Letter has also reported on how another piece of Housing Executive land – also in the north Belfast area – was being used by the UDA to honour one of its particularly-notorious members.

The mural and small memorial plaza for Stephen ‘Top Gun’ McKeag stands on Hopewell Avenue off the Shankill.

Whilst the mural itself needs no planning permission, the council is currently investigating the brickwork structure, which may require planning permission.