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Britain assigns $6 million for Belfast murals

July 11, 2006|From the Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Britain unveiled a $6-million program Monday to replace Belfast's towering paramilitary wall murals in the most hard-line Protestant areas with more positive, less threatening artwork.

Dozens of Protestant neighborhoods feature murals of masked men in combat gear with guns, alongside murals lauding either the Ulster Defense Assn. or the Ulster Volunteer Force, both outlawed groups.

The project would "engage local people and their communities in finding ways of replacing divisive murals and emblems with more positive imagery," said Maria Eagle, Britain's culture minister for Northern Ireland.

The grants for individual projects would range from $9,200 to $92,000, she said.

Rosemary Kelly, chairwoman of the Northern Ireland Arts Council overseeing the project, said she hoped to encourage artists who previously specialized in painting gun-toting masked men with designing "broader expressions of civic and cultural identity" that would create "a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone."

Protestant leaders welcomed the project, but Catholics denounced it as perverse.

"It is clear that any paramilitary murals designed to intimidate or mark out territory should be removed," said Alban Maginness, a moderate Catholic on Belfast City Council. "People shouldn't have to be paid to take down paramilitary murals. They should be told to do it."

"Many people will fear that this is nothing more that a polite form of extortion," he said. "The people causing the problem will now be paid to stop causing it."

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