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Housing Executive gets rent from IRA memorial site in north Belfast

The new memorial at Ardoyne.
Brendan Hughes

THE Housing Executive is receiving rent from a community group for a strip of land used to build an IRA memorial.

The monument at Butler Place in Ardoyne, north Belfast, was unveiled last weekend as part of a new 'garden of reflection'.

It bears the names of more than 130 people from the area killed during the Troubles including a central panel dedicated to IRA members.

The community association behind the republican memorial is leasing the land from the Housing Executive for an annual rent of £200.

The Housing Executive said it is investigating following the construction of the memorial.

It said the site was leased in 2014 to the Ardoyne, Bone and Ligoniel Heritage Association for a "community garden", but with various restrictions on its use.

"The land is leased with a rental of £200 per annum, to be reviewed every five years. There was no structure on the site when the lease was agreed," the housing body said.

A republican colour party led a parade through the streets on Sunday at the unveiling of the memorial garden.

Shankill bomber Sean Kelly and Belfast priest Fr Gary Donegan were among the hundreds who attended.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, the main speaker at the unveiling, said he was "proud to speak at the opening of the garden of reflection" and described it as "very emotive".

"The garden is substantial and a lovely place of remembrance," the North Belfast MLA wrote on Facebook.

Veteran republican Joe Austin with Sinn Fein minister Gerry Kelly and Fr Gary Donegan at the unveiling of a memorial to those from the Ardoyne area who died during the Troubles. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

A Housing Executive spokesman said: "The site at Butler Walk/Place was assessed as having no development potential for social housing. An economic appraisal was conducted and a public trawl of the land was also completed, as required by Managing Public Money NI.

"In those circumstances, the land was leased to Ardoyne, Bone and Ligoniel Heritage Association in April 2014 for 25 years, restricted for use as a community garden only. The lease also contains additional covenants on the part of the heritage association regarding its use of the land.

"Against that background, we will be investigating this matter and any such issues as may be identified as relevant will be raised directly with the Heritage Association."

The covenants, seen by The Irish News, say the heritage association is "not to carry on any development of the land".

It also cannot cause "any nuisance or annoyance to the lessor or its tennants or occupiers of the neighbouring lands".

The loyalist Ulster Political Research Group has criticised the Housing Executive for how the land has been used.

Belfast City Council said that no planning permission has been received for the memorial.

A spokesman said: "We can confirm that a planning application has been lodged, but no decision has been issued. The planning service is currently investigating this case."

The unveiling involved a procession from an old memorial garden at the corner of Berwick Road and Brompton Park towards the new monument a short distance away.

A parade makes its way to the unveiling of a memorial to those from the Ardoyne area who died during the Troubles. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

Ardoyne, Bone, Ligoniel Heritage Association describes on its website fundraising efforts for the memorial garden, including street collections and a 'buy a brick' scheme.

It explains how the group has aimed to create a garden of reflection to act as a "focal point for the families of those who lost their lives".

"The Ardoyne, Bone and Ligoniel areas suffered greatly as a result of the conflict and it is only right and proper that a garden that will last as a fitting tribute is established," the website says.

The group could not be reached for comment.

It's not the first time the Housing Executive (NIHE) has faced controversy over memorials on its land.

In 2014 a loyalist memorial in south Belfast sparked controversy after The Irish News revealed it was built with £11,000 of NIHE funds.

The monument near Annadale flats is now being used annually in a parade honouring notorious UDA men Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, who were linked to numerous Troubles murders.

In each year a temporary plaque bearing their names has been fixed to the memorial.

NIHE also faced criticism last year when it emerged that a UVF stone had been added to a £22,000 newly built remembrance garden in the Village area.

The housing body said both remembrance gardens were intended as First World War monuments.

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