Oxford academic decries loss of terrorist murals

There have over the last number of years been serious attempts as part of the Re-Imaging Communities Project to remove the sectarian murals in Belfast and replace them with more positive images highlighting the areas’ cultural and history. The Titanic murals also on the Lower Newtownards Road would be an example: unfortunately since the assembly election two new murals depicting loyalist terrorists have been created.

Overall, however, according to the Belfast Telegraph there are fewer sectarian murals now than there have been for fifty years. Whilst most in the local communities and indeed throughout Northern Ireland society are very likely to be pleased by the removal of murals supporting terrorists some seem less happy (not just terrorists). Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, has questioned the murals’ destruction.

“My instinct as a historian is that these are some of the most important public images of our time,” he said. “People should see what they can do to preserve them. Someone should look seriously at them with a view to which ones should be kept and how.”

According to the Arts Council’s Noirin McKinney “There’s been a lot of research into the iconography which has been left in Northern Ireland and various agencies have looked at positive ways we can address that legacy… Some of them have come down, while some have been replaced with sculptures or landscaping. It’s really up to the community.”

Whilst there is undoubtedly a role for historians to record the murals, the reality is that the local communities (who suffered the most from the paramilitaries especially in more recent years) and Northern Ireland society in general seem keen to be rid of the overtly terrorist supporting murals. Whilst there might be an intellectual argument in his favour, Professor Kemp’s defence of the terrorist murals sounds little more sensible than Michael Stone’s defence after his attack on Stormont, when he claimed it was in actual fact “Performance Art.” On that occasion the judge who was less than convinced by his defence had previously been Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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