‘Lengthy’ wait before planners act on UDA tribute – and they may not act at all

The new McKeag memorial

The new McKeag memorial

Removing part of a memorial shrine to a dead paramilitary could be a “long and complex process” – and may not even be demanded at all.

Belfast City Council is looking into a newly built brick and concrete memorial plaza around a Housing Association gable wall in Belfast’s Hopewell Avenue.

It is considering whether enforcement action, like ordering its removal, may be required under planning laws.

The wall recently had a fresh mural of Stephen McKeag painted on it.

McKeag was a member of Johnny Adair’s so-called C Company of the UDA/UFF and journalist Henry McDonald, co-author of a history of the UDA, has cited police sources as attributing “at least 12” deaths to him.

When the News Letter reported on the memorial on September 26, the council said no permission was sought for any work.

But although the paintwork mural is a “permitted development” which needs no consent, the plaza could breach planning rules.

Asked last week if it had reached a decision on this yet, the council said that “an enforcement case has been opened”.

This does not mean there has definitely been a breach of planning rules, but rather that the council is considering that as a possibility.

The council added: “Enforcement action, should it be appropriate in this case, is often a long and complex process and lengthy periods of time can be involved before a case is satisfactorily resolved.”

As well as looking in to the case of the McKeag tribute plaza, the News Letter has also investigated other aspects of the planning system for a news feature published in Monday’s paper.

It includes the discovery that only a tiny fraction of alleged planning breaches (such as wrecking listed buildings) are ever pursued through the courts – and even fewer result in a meaningful fine – see full story here.

In addition, it now looks like it will be May next year before an unauthorised industrial facility is finally demolished – 10 years after enforcement action was taken, and only as part of a deal allowing a new factory to be built in its stead.