The painting over of a George Best mural in Belfast with an image of a paramilitary gunman is a sad step backwards for the city, Theresa Villiers has said.
The Northern Ireland Secretary expressed concern that new paramilitary-style murals were emerging after years of work to replace them with less contentious paintings, such as that of the legendary footballer.
But recent escalation of community tensions in the city has seen a number of the new murals give way to images more associated with the Troubles, particularly in loyalist areas.
The artwork in east Belfast dedicated to the late Manchester United and Northern Ireland star, which was unveiled in 2010, is being replaced by a painting of a gunman.
Ms Villiers expressed disappointment at the development.
“I think that is sad, I think that does feel to me like a step backwards,” she said
“Because a huge amount of work has gone into trying to find a way for people to be able to express their culture and their history and their identity, whether it’s British or Irish, in a way which doesn’t seek to glorify violence or to hark back to a violent past.
“So I certainly do think it’s a step backwards to see the return of paramilitary-style murals over ones which are the sort of George Best type one that has been painted over recently and I am sure there are a range of community groups working on these to try and find a way to ensure people can express their culture through murals in a way that doesn’t glorify violence and I hope that work will continue.”