St Patrick mural in south Belfast faces planning probe

The Housing Executive's Clark Bailie, First Minister Arlene Foster and artist Ross Wilson launching the artwork
Brendan Hughes

A MURAL of St Patrick in a loyalist area of south Belfast is being investigated by council officials in a row over planning permission.

Launched last week by First Minister Arlene Foster, the artwork on Tates Avenue bridge is aimed at recognising the shared history of Ireland's patron saint.

But some residents claim they were not consulted about the plans and say it spoils the appearance of the traditional red-brick bridge.

The artwork is placed on several large aluminium panels fastened to the bridge in the Village area of the city.

It was created by artist Ross Wilson at a cost of £10,000 to the Housing Executive (NIHE).

Billy Dickson, chair of Blackstaff Residents' Association and who lives nearby, said they were not consulted about the mural.

"If a large art work went up in your street without your knowledge, would you be happy about not being consulted? I don't think you would be," he said.

"My personal view is that I have no problem with the image or the wording, but I don't like where it is on the bridge as it takes away the aesthetic line of the traditional red-brick bridge which has always been a traditional feature of the area.

"In simple words, the artwork looks out of place on the bridge."

It is not the first time NIHE has pursued community projects in south Belfast without seeking planning approval.

Planning chiefs previously probed two controversial memorials NIHE constructed in 2014 in the Village and Ormeau Road areas.

The monuments, in total costing £33,000, 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 planners said it would "not be expedient" to pursue the matter with the housing body, which insisted it complied with regulations.

The latest project was led by the Greater Village Regeneration Trust alongside Action for Community Transformation (Act).

It features interpretations of St Patrick by Donegall Road Primary School pupils and explains how St Patrick is represented in the Union flag.

An NIHE press release following the unveiling included a comment from Act's Colin Fulton.

The PUP member last year lost his High Court harassment action over newspaper allegations of loyalist paramilitary involvement. He denies involvement in the UVF or any other paramilitary group.

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: "Belfast planning office has not received a planning application or an application for consent to display artwork at Tates Avenue, Belfast.

"This office will now undertake investigations to establish the nature of the display and whether any breach of planning regulations has occurred."

NIHE said "community engagement sessions" were held and residents were invited to the March 10 unveiling.

A spokeswoman said the bridge is owned by the Department for Regional Development which gave permission for its use.

The housing body added that Belfast City Council also "supported the project and gave formal approval" through the committee process.

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