Belfast Telegraph

Terror murals: PSNI under fire
Councillor hits out at 'lightweight approach'

By Nevin Farrell
07 January 2005

An SDLP councillor who is the husband of Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has accused a police chief of being "lightweight" in dealing with paramilitary murals.

Declan O'Loan told a meeting of Ballymena's District Policing Partnership that the presence of the trappings of terrorism in the town "is an assertion of paramilitary control and a challenge to the authority of the PSNI in enforcing the law".

But Ballymena commander Supt Terry Shevlin said the murals issue was complex and that in the current climate if police moved against them it would create a worse reaction.

He said murals are something for the whole community to deal with and he urged people with influence to take steps to have them removed.

In the meantime, Mr Shevlin said the police focus is on dealing with terrorist groups involved in crime.

Mr Shevlin said he did not condone murals which were across Northern Ireland in both sections of the community but he said police had to be "practical" about how they deal with them.

On the other hand, Mr Shevlin added that he was "more interested in dealing with racketeering and guns. It's more important for me to go after the people who are behind the symbols."

Mr Shevlin said communities should adopt "mature" positions and move away from paramilitary symbols "of whatever ilk".

Councillor O'Loan said a recent court case found that the putting up of a paramilitary flag was an offence and given the amount of time it takes to erect a mural he wondered what they police were doing.

Mr Shevlin said there are potentially offences when the actions of people erecting murals would give rise to the suspicion that they may have paramilitary membership and if such evidence is available then he would not hesitate to investigate it.

But he said Ballymena police had received no complaints about murals which indicated it was not a policing priority.

Councillor O'Loan felt the answer was "lightweight" and he said the police should not think murals aren't an issue because there are no complaints and he said the murals were designed to intimidate people.

He said it takes more than five minutes to paint a mural and was "disappointed" there is not more of a response from police.

Mr Shevlin said if the whole community demanded action on murals then he would take it on board.

DUP councillor Robin Stirling wondered if it would get to the stage where someone painting a portrait of King William crossing the Boyne would be arrested.

Councillor Willie Wright (Independent Unionist) said loyalists in Ahoghill had voluntarily removed a paramilitary mural and said that that was a good example of how the situation could be moved forward.

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