IRA memorial to be erected on peaceline

AN IRA memorial is to be built just metres from where a landmark peace sculpture will be erected later this year, the News Letter has learned.

The memorial garden dedicated to IRA members from the St James area, just off the Falls Road in west Belfast, will be within walking distance of the massive Rise sculpture due to be erected on the Broadway roundabout.

One of the main routes into the city, connecting the Westlink and M1, as well as providing access to the Royal Victoria Hospital, the roundabout is passed by thousands of drivers on a daily basis, not to mention the potential millions of tourists which visit Belfast each year.

The roundabout also marks an interface between the loyalist Village area and the republican Falls Road. There were concerns such a memorial could elevate tensions in the area, and provoke anger among the unionist community.

Rise, a 123ft high by 98.4ft wide white and silver aluminium globe-shaped sculpture, is meant to symbolise a new sun rising to celebrate a new chapter in Belfast's history.

The news of the planned memorial caused consternation among unionists, who branded it "totally inappropriate".

UUP councillor for the nearby Village area, Bob Stoker, said the garden would be "less than helpful" to the troubled interface area, particularly to "the amount of good work" which has been carried out across the divide.

Considering the efforts to improve cross-community relations he said he was "surprised" people would organise such a tribute to terrorism.

"In the current climate, with on-going discussions between the communities, I think it will be totally unhelpful to have any memorial to IRA men erected at that particular site," he said.

"It will certainly raise tensions, and I would ask those people involved to reconsider their plan for doing something like this."

However, Liam Shannon, from the Belfast National Graves Association, said he didn't believe such memorials were offensive.

"I don't see how anybody could take from a memorial garden that it's in any way not promoting peace," he said. "Peace is here and hopefully it's here to stay.

"We shouldn't forget the past, if we don't remember the past we won't know where we are going for the future, and that's important."

Mr Shannon also denied the garden was dedicated to IRA members, and said instead it was in memory of "former prisoners and republicans" from the St James area "who lost their lives during the Troubles".

He said the memorial garden, which will consist of a plaque, water features, landscaping and decorative stone walls, "shouldn't be controversial" because it has been given planning permission.

When contacted, the planning service confirmed they had given permission for a "community garden" at the site on the corner of Donegall Road and St James Crescent, opposite the entrance of the Park Shopping Centre.

Mr Shannon said respect should be shown to all memorials, whether "British Army, republican or loyalist, they should be left alone".