THERE were calls last night for paramilitary murals to be removed from along the route of the upcoming Giro d'Italia cycle race.
Alliance Party assembly member, Anna Lo also called for all flags to be taken down along the route of the high-profile event in May. Her call comes just a week after all political parties in Northern Ireland were urged not to erect election posters before the race so as not to spoil the view of the north enjoyed by millions of television viewers worldwide. The Giro d'Italia is the second biggest cycling race in the world, with an expected television audience of 770 million people. However, the race, which starts in Belfast on May, coincides with political campaigning ahead of the European and local council elections on May 22.
Political parties appear to be moving towards agreement to restrict poster campaigning on the route but the Alliance party has asked them to go further. The Belfast route on the first day begins at Titanic Belfast, continuing on to the Newtownards Road, to Stormont and then back by Queen's Bridge, the Ormeau Road, Stranmillis and Belfast city centre.
The following day will see the competitors travel along the Antrim Road to Antrim, Ballymena, Bushmills, the Giant's Causeway, taking in Cushendall to Larne, Whitehead, Carrickfergus and back to Belfast.
The final day begins in Armagh and on to Richhill and Newtownhamilton before crossing the border.
Anna Lo said if all political parties "agree to take down election posters, then we should also look to take down the flags that are on the same lamp posts:. "People are tired of flags being used to mark territory and intimidate local people," she said. "This is not the image that we want to be sending out to the world during such a prestigious event. "Funding will be made available in towns along the route to improve the image of eyesores such as derelict buildings but I have a bigger problem with images of paramilitary gunmen. Do we really want these images to be visible on the route when millions of people will be watching the race on television?" "As political parties were so willing to support the ban on election posters along the route, I hope they will show similar support for a ban on flags and paramilitary murals."
* SPECTACLE: Ireland's former Giro d'Italia winner Stephen Roche launches this year's competition. Above, some of the murals the competitors will pass and a map of the Belfast leg of the race