Shankill 'Mona Lisa' mural smiles no more

A LOYALIST mural of a gunman known as the 'Mona Lisa' has been razed to the ground as part of a regeneration scheme.

The gable wall containing the mural in the Lower Shankill estate in Belfast was demolished early yesterday morning.

The mural was nicknamed the Mona Lisa because the barrel of the UFF man's machine gun appeared to point directly at the viewer no matter where they stood.

Over the years it has become a popular attraction among holidaymakers taking part in black taxi tours across the city.

The mural is located in what was once the stronghold of former UDA leader Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair.

It is one of a number of gable wall images in the Shankill estate that have been knocked down due to ongoing regeneration works in the area.

Houses in the Shankill estate have been demolished to make way for new homes. The first phase of redevelopment created 21 houses while another 12 are due to be ready by April 2016.

The 'Mona Lisa' mural is thought to have been created in the early 90s.

Retired professor Bill Rolston, of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, said the mural depicts the formation of loyalist paramilitary groups including the UDA.

He said the mural is known for the gunman pointing a machine gun directly at his audience from every angle.

"Certainly it's something that every black taxi driver points out to tourists in the area," he said.

"It's quite astonishing that even at an oblique angle the gun seems to be pointing at you. It also looks as if the gunman's shoulder is moving with you as well."

Prof Rolston said pressure from within and outside loyalism has led to numerous paramilitary murals being changed in recent years.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) said the estate redevelopment involves 're-imaging' five existing murals with community agreement.

A spokeswoman said: "The Shankill estate has seen much redevelopment and regeneration over recent years. The first phase of redevelopment saw 21 family homes built by Choice Housing, and when phase two is complete in April 2016 a further 12 new family homes will be available.

"This work has been successful due to the close working relationship the Housing Executive has built up over many years with the residents, community groups and other housing bodies. We consulted widely over many years and the residents are in complete agreement with the proposals.

"Another important area of redevelopment is working with the local community in the lower Shankill to re-image five existing murals in the estate, which is ongoing.

"Again, the success of this re-imaging work is not possible without the consultation and agreement of the local residents and community groups. The murals will enhance the area as a designated community space and create a positive image of the area."