A failure of authorities to remove an illegally erected republican memorial in Lurgan would set a “very dangerous precedent” in how we deal with the “repugnant act” of glorifying terrorism, Jo-Anne Dobson has said.
Welcoming the decision of Mid & East Antrim Council to dismantle a smaller Easter Rising stone monument in Carnlough, the Ulster Unionist MLA said it was vital that a blind eye is not turned to the imposing Republican Sinn Fein construction at Lurgantarry.
In recent weeks, contractors working on behalf of Mid & East Antrim Council removed a 1916 memorial which had been erected without planning permission at Hurry Head.
A first attempt to clear the site was abandoned after contractors reported being threatened. However, the job was finally completed in the early hours of June 17 by workers accompanied by the PSNI.
The republican memorial in Lurgan was opened following a parade of masked men in paramilitary uniform through the Kilwilkie estate on May 28.
A short time later, police arrested 12 men on the outskirts of the Co Armagh town on suspicion of offences under the public processions act and associated offences.
Police charged one man with taking part in an un-notified public procession, nine were released on bail pending further inquiries and two released unconditionally.
Mrs Dobson has raised the lack of action over the Lurgan memorial with NI secretary Theresa Villiers and communities minister Paul Givan, and tabled a number of Assembly questions regarding what steps the relevant authorities are taking to reclaim the Housing Executive-owned site.
In a joint statement with Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council, NIHE said: “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 Northern Ireland Housing Executive, who own the land on which the development has been constructed.”
Mrs Dobson said: “Since I have been pursuing this illegal ‘memorial,’ erected in Lurgan by Republican Sinn Fein, with Executive ministers and the secretary of state, I have been shocked at the apparent lack of willingness from Government to do anything about it. This disinterested attitude sets a very dangerous precedent.
“This issue must not be allowed to simply slip under the radar, to do so is to open a Pandora’s box where terrorist shrines could be erected safe in the knowledge that no official action will be taken.”
Commenting on the removal of the illegal memorial in Carnlough, TUV councillor Timothy Gaston said the council had “put down a marker” that illegally erected monuments in the borough would not be tolerated.
Mr Gaston said it was too early to say if nationalist councillors would apply for the required planning permission.
“The council was within their right to go in and remove it. The community had been asked to remove it: they refused, so the councilllors authorised that it would be removed.
“Sinn Fein were pushing for this to be erected. Their fingerprints are all over this memorial, and they haven’t followed the [proper] process,” Mr Gaston added.
Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan described the removal of the Carnlough monument as a “shameful and disrespectful and a blow” for community relations in the area.
“There are loyalist memorials dotted throughout the council area. We are simply asking that all memorials should be respected and treated equally,” he said.
“This action has caused considerable hurt and anger in the Carnlough area. I can’t think of a single issue that has caused so much hurt in recent times,” Mr McMullan added.