Use of Martin Luther King quote on UVF mural ‘perverse’
Painting dedicated to Ulster Volunteer Force has replaced mural of George Best
The painting of a UVF gunman and a well-known quote from American activist Martin Luther King which has replaced the Best mural. Alan Lewis/Photopress Belfast
The mural depicting George Best which is being replaced by a paramilitary image of a masked gunman in the footballer’s native east Belfast. Photograph: Alan Lewis/Photopress Belfast
A new mural dedicated to the Ulster Volunteer Force featuring a civil rights statement from Martin Luther King has been completed in east Belfast despite local political opposition.
It replaces a mural of George Best which was painted with the support of £1,500 in anti-sectarianism funding.
Controversy over the new mural to the UVF which killed more than 500 people during the Troubles has been running through recent weeks.
Initially the image of George Best at Inverwood Court in east Belfast was obliterated and a partly-completed mural was painted on the wall.
However, after a local outcry including from Dr John Kyle, a councillor with the Progressive Unionist Party which is linked to the UVF, work on the mural was suspended.
The mural however was completed on Saturday. It shows an armed UVF member wearing a balaclava alongside the Martin Luther King statement: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
The mural was completed the same day another loyalist parade took place through Belfast city centre to north Belfast.
The parade was deemed “unlawful” because it started on Saturday afternoon an hour later than the time instructed by the Parades Commission.
Dr Kyle said he did not know who took the decision to complete the mural but blamed it on loyalist “hardliners”.
The painting of the mural reflects the continuing sectarian tensions in Belfast over parades, flags and emblems and reinforces the depth of the challenge facing US diplomat Dr Richard Haass as he and an all-party Assembly group seek to resolve these issues as well as dealing with the legacy of the past.
The mural was erected with a £1,500 grant from Belfast City Council which came through the European Union Peace III fund in a project called, “Tackling the Physical Manifestations of Sectarianism”. This is part of an initiative designed to replace paramilitary murals with benign non-sectarian images that celebrate local places and people.
East Belfast Alliance Assembly member Chris Lyttle said the UVF mural was “anti-civil rights and anti-east Belfast” and should be replaced immediately. “The completion of this mural casts a sinister shadow over everything that is positive East Belfast. It is unacceptable that an image which once depicted the world-class talent of George Best has now been replaced by a paramilitary gunman,” he said.
“Political representatives have rightly condemned the glorification of terrorism in recent weeks, and must be united and clear in their rejection of all murals of this kind - if we are to build a safe and inclusive society for everyone in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Lyttle.
“There is much to learn from the peaceful activism of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Junior, who dedicated his life to non-violence and integration, but the placement of this quote alongside a masked gunman is perverse beyond belief,” he added.
East Belfast DUP Assembly Robin Newton said he was disappointed the mural was replaced. “George Best was one of the world’s most talented footballers; he was much-admired internationally. The ‘Belfast Boy’ deserves to be remembered in his home city,” he said.