Guns make unwelcome return to Belfast murals

Tue Jul 26, 2011 3:43pm EDT
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By Conor Humphries

BELFAST (Reuters) - When graffiti artists painted over a huge mural of Northern Ireland's soccer heroes with two armed men in balaclavas this summer, police in east Belfast took notice.

Within weeks the area had descended into its worst sectarian rioting in a decade, the latest stark reminder that 13 years of official peace has failed to remove political violence from Northern Ireland's streets.

Despite the success of a political marriage between once bitter Catholic and Protestant rivals in the local parliament, there are signs that radicals on each side are stepping up their use of violence to push divergent agendas.

"First came the murals and then the petrol bombs," said Arthur McDonald, 70, a Catholic whose estate was attacked by a mob, which police said was orchestrated by Protestant paramilitaries. "It's the only way they can get recognition."

Neither the street violence from disaffected Protestant loyalists, so-called for their loyalty to the British Crown, nor gun and bomb attacks by dissident Catholic Republicans, who want a united Ireland independent of Britain, are widespread enough to threaten the stability of the province.

But they are dashing hopes that the historic peace deal could end strife on the province's troubled housing estates.

Since 2006 the number of so-called "peace walls," diving Catholic and Protestant areas, has increased from 37 from 48, as the police try to dampen sectarian violence.


<p>Locals pass a mural showing loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gunmen on a wall in a predominantly protestant area of east Belfast June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez</p>