The extent to which Housing Executive property is being used to glorify groups responsible for mass murder can now be revealed – at least in part.
The News Letter has obtained a list of the 255 recorded murals on Housing Executive properties, painted on everything from gable walls to the roofs of towerblocks and electricity substations.
The list is incomplete; for example, the Housing Executive said it does not have the resources to carry out surveys in the South West Area (covering the Catholic-dominated towns of Omagh and Enniskillen), and it only did a tiny survey of South Down for the same reason (covering overwhelmingly-Catholic Newry and its surroundings).
In addition, there are likely to be many other murals across the country on private buildings or on walls owned by other public agencies.
Nevertheless, the figures offer an extensive snapshot of the numbers and types of mural on housing estates across most of the Province.
According to the list, most murals – 146 – are loyalist.
And out of those 146, the overwhelming majority represent violent sectarian groups.
Ten relate to the Red Hand Commando, 57 to the UDA/UFF, and 61 to the UVF/YCV – although some of the UVF murals are historic in style, and focus on the Ulster Volunteers of Edward Carson’s day.
Meanwhile one relates to the LVF, and one relates to obscure outlawed group the Orange Volunteers.
Out of the 43 republican murals recorded, 21 are listed as relating to the IRA.
The vast bulk of these are Troubles-related, not historic.
Other republican murals include six relating to a body called the “Continuity Army Council”, six to the INLA, one to Oglaigh na hEireann, two to Cumann na mBan (the IRA’s women’s section), and two to Fianna na hEireann (a group whose name dates back to pre-Easter Rising days, and which currently appears on the UK’s list of proscribed terror organisations).
There are also 24 republican and loyalist murals which are not listed as being connected to any specific group.
And on top of that are another 66 murals, classed as being neither explicitly republican nor loyalist.
Mostly referred to as “non-aligned” murals, these sometimes depict sportsmen, have anti-drug messages, or mark the Belfast Blitz.
However, despite being listed as non-aligned, a number of them are clearly politically-charged – for example, one in Londonderry’s republican Bogside is described as depicting a petrol bomber, while another shows “riots and gas”.
The Housing Executive was asked what its policy is on murals on its properties – especially paramilitary ones.
It responded: “The Housing Executive is at the forefront in working with our communities across Northern Ireland to move away from contentious symbols to more acceptable expressions of culture...
“We have supported remarkable community led transformative work, including the reimaging of paramilitary murals – many of which were there without community agreement.”
It added “no single agency can resolve the challenges we face in Northern Ireland”.
The PSNI meanwhile said: “We accept that the display of certain items may be considered offensive, however that in itself is not sufficient for police to effect removal.”
It said officers will only act to remove paramilitary murals or flags “in extreme circumstances”, such as if they are presenting a risk to public order.
WHERE DOES YOUR AREA STAND?
The breakdown of Housing Executive areas with the biggest number of murals recorded on their properties:
• South Antrim: 46 (23 UVF, 17 UDA/UFF, one LVF, four Red Hand Commando, one other)
• West Area, covering Londonderry and Strabane: 33 (One Orange Volunteers, three UDA/UFF, three UVF, one Cumann na mBan, two IRA, six INLA, 17 others)
• Lisburn and Castlereagh: 32 (Two Red Hand Commando, eight UDA/UFF, one UVF, one IRA, two Fianna na hEireann, and 18 other types)
• North Down & Ards: 28 (Three Red Hand Commando, three UDA/UFF, nine UVF, and 13 others)
• West Belfast: 27 (Seven UDA/UFF, four UVF, one Red Hand Commando, four IRA, one Oglaigh na hEireann, 10 others)
• Mid & East Antrim: 26 (Eight UDA/UFF, 11 UVF and one from its youth wing the YCV, plus six others)
• South Area, covering Lurgan, Portadown, Armagh and Banbridge: 22 (Eight IRA, four UVF, one Continuity Army Council, nine others)
• North Belfast: 15 (Five Continuity Army Council, two IRA and one Cumann na mBan, two UVF, and five others)
• South & East Belfast: 11 (Six UDA/UFF, one IRA, four others)
• Causeway Area: 7 (Four UDA, one UVF, two others)
• Mid Ulster: 6 (One UDA, two UVF, three IRA)
• South Down: 2 (listed in very limited survey, and both classed as “other”)
• South West: no survey done.