The Alliance Party and the East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson of the DUP have firmly disagreed over ongoing work to replace UDA murals of masked gunmen in his constituency.
Four UDA murals on the Newtownards Road are currently being completely replaced after being damaged by PSNI water cannon.
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said he has backed some very successful projects to re-image some of the paramilitary murals in east Belfast.
“I believe these four UDA murals should also have been re-imaged,” he said. “Paramilitary murals glorify terrorism, promote fear and impede development. It is time that we move away from such images and instead celebrate the positive aspects of Northern Ireland.”
His party colleague Councillor Michael Long said he could see no reason why paramilitary murals should be retained.
“We should have something much more positive,” he said. “We are trying to attract investment into east Belfast but this is an obvious attempt to intimitate and control the community; what does it say if people can go into the street in broad daylight and paint massive murals of masked gunmen?”
He said there were plenty of other aspects of east Belfast that could be developed for tourism, including George Best, the Titanic, CS Lewis and local boxers.
But Dee Stitt, CEO of east Belfast community group Charter NI, is working to see 23 UDA murals in east Belfast “re-imaged” in four different phases. He “totally agrees” that paramilitary murals need to go, but adds that the UDA “need to be brought along through this process”. He hopes the “negative” publicity about Freedom Corner would not jeopardise other phases yet to begin.
“Freedom Corner murals have been there for over 30 years. They are only being replaced now because they were damaged by water cannon.”
Gavin Robinson MP, pictured, said he has received no complaints about the repainting of Freedom Corner, but did have complaints recently about new UDA murals, “which were seen as a backward step”.
The former Belfast Lord Mayor noted that 23 UDA murals in east Belfast are currently being “re-imaged” and replaced with positive murals, having personally appeared at the launch of the first pilot.
He added: “I am happy to engage about the re-imaging of Freedom Corner if those responsible for it wish to do so. But any discussions would have to take into account the major tourism draw there is to see the murals.”
Orange Order chaplain the Rev Mervyn Gibson said: “For many people, the Freedom Corner murals represent the history of the community in both good times and bad times.”