A NEW mural depicting masked, armed paramilitary men from the East Belfast Battalion has caused widespread controversy in Belfast.
The mural, which is based on Belvoir Street, shows members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) alongside the words "The prevention of the erosion of our identity is now our priority".
It comes amid heightened tension in Northern Ireland, with an uncertain future regarding Brexit and the border, and with a general election just weeks away.
The appearance of the mural has further soured relations between Republican and Unionist political parties, which were already on tenterhooks last week after Sinn Fein demanded that the DUP condemn loyalist paramilitary groups which were removing Sinn Fein election posters in the city, as reported by The Belfast Telegraph.
— Belfast Telegraph (@BelTel) November 12, 2019
Sinn Fein MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has now urged the DUP to condemn those responsible for the mural, the Telegraph reports.
He said: “In just the past week loyalist gangs have intimidated the DUP’s electoral opponents, erected banners targeting [North Belfast Sinn Fein candidate] John Finucane and his family, and are now issuing public threats of violence.
“It is of note that this criminality is taking place as the DUP continue to cosy up to these groups in the mouth of an election.
“The DUP should unequivocally condemn these banners, those who erected them, and the spate of recent criminality carried out by these gangs," he said.
However a DUP spokesperson attacked the perceived hypocrisy of Sinn Fein in their response, saying:
“Sinn Fein has the unrepentant Shankill bomber on their canvass team, spends most weekends celebrating and glorifying the IRA so no one will take a lecture from anyone in Sinn Fein on paramilitaries."
The statement went on to condemn the glorification of sectarianism on both sides.
“Frustration over culture and identity should not be an excuse to cause fear and intimidation within a community. The DUP is against any glorification of paramilitary groups — loyalist or republican. Our party condemns all those who cling to criminality and violence. Flags or any other emblems supporting paramilitaries have no place in our communities.”