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Housing body faces no action over second loyalist memorial

The remembrance garden in the Village area, south Belfast, where loyalists have erected a UVF memorial stone. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE Housing Executive will face no action despite building a controversial loyalist memorial without seeking planning approval – for a second time.

Planning chiefs launched an investigation earlier this year amid uproar over a taxpayer-funded monument in south Belfast being used to glorify loyalist paramilitaries.

The probe found the housing body should have sought permission to build the £22,000 memorial because it exceeds 'permitted development rights'.

It is the second time the Housing Executive (NIHE) has been found to have constructed a controversial memorial without planning approval.

Last year a memorial off the Ormeau Road sparked controversy after The Irish News revealed it was built with £11,000 of NIHE funds.

The remembrance garden was unveiled during a parade last July as the centrepiece of a loyalist paramilitary commemoration.

A temporary name plaque, not funded by NIHE, honoured UDA members including Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, who were linked to scores of Troubles murders.

NIHE faced further criticism in March after it emerged that a UVF stone had been added to the £22,000 remembrance garden in the Village area.

Both remembrance gardens were intended as First World War monuments but caused outrage after being changed by loyalists to honour paramilitaries shortly after being built.

In both cases planning officials said it would "not be expedient" to pursue the matter with the housing body, which has insisted it complied with regulations.

Now NIHE says it will not be funding any further memorials on its land.

However, SDLP South Belfast MLA Fearghal McKinney criticised NIHE and called for both loyalist memorials to be demolished.

"Their failure to apply for planning permission remains a mystery and the Housing Executive must detail why they decided to begin construction without getting the green light from the planning service," he said.

"While important, planning violations remain only one reason why these memorials should be removed. Their eulogising of groups involved in sectarian murder, intimidation and criminality remains the primary concern here. The fact that they were paid for from the public purse is unacceptable.

"These divisive memorials remain in place and I will be writing a formal request to the Housing Executive for their removal in the interest of maintaining the neutrality of public spaces and promoting good community relations."

NIHE staff were denied access to the Village memorial when the UVF stone was added, after locks they placed on the gates were changed.

The garden at Frenchpark Street was built to replace a previous UVF memorial that had been removed during housing redevelopment in the Village.

The new memorial was paid for from NIHE's budget and money provided by European Union peace funding.

A Belfast City Council planning service spokesman confirmed that no action would be taken over the memorial.

"The city council's planning enforcement team has investigated this development. It found that the enclosure was only marginally in excess of what would be allowed under permitted development rights," a spokesman said.

"This excess did not give rise to any significant environmental impacts. The council therefore decided that it would not be expedient to pursue any further action."

NIHE denied that planning approval was required for the remembrance gardens. It said no permission was needed for the Village memorial because its walls did not exceed six foot.

The housing body said the memorials are the only ones of their kind it has funded, and said it "will not be advocating the construction of any further memorials".

A spokeswoman said: "Issues around expressions of cultural identity and sense of place, which manifest themselves in mural, monuments and flags, are extremely difficult and often dangerous to deal with.

"The Housing Executive has been at the forefront of moving towards more acceptable expressions of cultural identity.

"Over recent years we have been working with others to roll out a successful programme of re-imaging to encourage communities to move away from aggressive expressions of cultural identity to more inclusive, historically accurate and informative depictions of our history.

"The Housing Executive will not be advocating the construction of any further memorials on its land."

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