Probe launched into ‘illegal’ 1916 memorial which is to officially open in Lurgan

The 1916 memorial at Lurgantarry. INLM20-210..
The 1916 memorial at Lurgantarry. INLM20-210..

A probe has been launched into an illegal memorial erected in Lurgan to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising.

The memorial, erected by Republican Sinn Fein on land owned by the NI Housing Executive, is to be officially opened next week - on May 28 - despite no planning application or approval.

Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council which is responsible for planning, has opened an enforcement notice following the construction of the monument in Lurgantarry.

A joint statement from the Council and NIHE stated: “Following receipt of a complaint in March 2016, the Council opened an enforcement case to investigate the construction of an alleged unauthorised memorial at Lurgantarry, Lurgan. The Council is currently engaging with the NIHE.”

However, the monument has caused anger among unionists who are furious it has been built illegally.

And the Secretary of State Teresa Villiers has weighted into the row vowing to raise the illegality of the memorial with the Chief Constable.

The monument, which remembers republicans who died “in the cause of Irish freedom”, was built to coincide with the centenary of the 1916 rebellion.

Police warned of a security risk if staff attempt to remove it.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has written to the Secretary of State on the matter.

Ms Villiers’ responded saying that she will raise the issue with Chief Constable George Hamilton and Justice Minister David Ford.

“I share your concerns about this having been erected on land belonging to the NIHE and regarding the safety of NIHE staff or contractors who may seek to remove it,” she wrote.

Republican Sinn Fein described the structure, comprising eight brick pillars, as a “memorial garden”.

It said it was “a fitting tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of Irish freedom over the past 100 years”. The group said the site had been “carefully chosen on reclaimed land”.

Ms Villiers suggests anyone who is unhappy with the memorial should contact police.

Ms Dobson said: “This issue cannot be allowed to slip under the radar, to do so is to open a Pandora’s box whereby terrorist shrines could be erected safe in the knowledge that no official action would be taken.”

The structure which has eight pillars is being built by Republican Sinn Fein to commemorate those who died in the Easter Rising and since.

In March when building work began a spokesperson for Republican Sinn Fein said the memorial is being erected in memory of Edward Costello, a Lurgan man who died during the Easter Rising of 1916.

He was a native of Castle Lane but had went to Dublin for work and joined the Irish Citizen Army in 1915.

The Thomas Harte Cumann RSF spokesperson said the monument is in memory of Mr Costello and ‘all those who died as a direct result of British occupation in Ireland’.

He explained that the party had been organising fundraisers and organised a local lottery to raise money to build the memorial.

They had carried out door to door collections, he said, and no one had voiced any concern about erecting the monument.

He said thousands of pounds had been raised but the party had ‘never encountered any objection’.

The spokesperson admitted that no planning permission had been sought for the memorial.

When asked if the party would be willing to remove it, if asked by the authorities, he said no and asked: “Why don’t they remove all those illegal memorials in Mourneview?”

A spokesperson from the Housing Executive said in March: “We can confirm the memorial is on Housing Executive land. It has recently been built without planning permission or the approval of the Housing Executive. We have never been asked for permission and would not have supported a memorial of this nature.

“The local Housing Executive office was made aware of the memorial being built on our land approximately a month ago.

“The replacement or removal of symbols such as murals and memorials is a complex and sensitive matter. No one, single agency can work on its own to do this. It needs a number of agencies and bodies to work together, as well as involving the public and relevant communities.

“To this end we will continue to work with those who live on our estates, their representatives and other agencies to look at an alternative use for these spaces.”