Belfast IFA league sees children play soccer beside UVF mural

The UVF mural at the Inverary playing fields in east Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
The UVF mural at the Inverary playing fields in east Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

CONCERNS have been raised about an east Belfast football pitch where children as young as seven are playing soccer with a loyalist paramilitary mural painted in the grounds.

A UVF mural is painted behind Inverary Community Centre where some games are held for the weekly Irish Football Association (IFA) children's programme.

Some parents have expressed concern that their young children are playing matches beside the loyalist paramilitary mural.

One west Belfast father, whose son plays for St Oliver Plunkett, told The Irish News how his eight-year-old son has played games where the goals sit in front of the UVF mural.

"He has an Irish name. You wouldn't feel comfortable shouting his name, and he's on a team full of Irish names," the 34-year-old said.

The father-of-two from Ballymurphy, added: "They are playing there facing this mural. The mural is behind the goals of the team that they're playing against.

"It's just not the type of thing that should be in a sports venue for kids. I don't think any kids should have to play in front of any mural in sports grounds.

"If the football association is serious about not accepting that type of thing they should not be making any allowances."

Another parent whose son plays for north Belfast side Newington also contacted The Irish News to highlight the matter.

Flags including those of loyalist paramilitaries are also erected around the council-run Inverary venue, close to the George Best Belfast City Airport.

It is thought the UVF mural was painted some time ago, but was previously partially covered by an IFA poster advising parents on pitchside conduct.

However, concerns over the mural have been raised after it became more visible when the IFA poster was removed.

Children from clubs across Belfast and beyond take part in weekly matches as part of the IFA Belfast Games Programme.

The cross-community Grassroots matches include teams of youngsters aged under nine as well as under-10s teams.

Belfast City Council the mural is on the bowling pavilion end of Tommy Patton Park behind the Inverary centre on land owned by the council.

A spokeswoman said: "The situation with flags and other emblems being erected at council-owned sites has been ongoing for some time, and is a sensitive issue. We continue to assess the situation at each site, including the bowling pavilion at Alderman Tommy Patton Memorial Park, off Inverary Avenue, and are working with local representatives to try to resolve this issue."

In a statement last night the IFA said they held games at Inverary for U10s as it was “the only purpose-built small-sided games centre in Belfast”.

The spokesman said that every Saturday Irish FA coaches put up a banner to cover up the mural and create a ‘neutral’ environment for play which is later taken down. However, he said that in the long-term it was up to the council to deal with the mural/flags issue at the site.