News Letter
22 February 2012

Photo: Gavan Caldwell

IT would be “totally unacceptable” for public funds to go to renovate an IRA memorial, First Minister Peter Robinson has said.

Entering the growing debate about an attempt to get taxpayers to fund repairs to the republican statue in Crossmaglen, the First Minister said that he had asked officials to “investigate and report urgently”.

Mr Robinson’s comments came amid a backlash yesterday from unionists and IRA victims after Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said that she had no problem with a funding application for the memorial going ahead.

The application for funds — believed to be up to £30,000 — has now gone to a local group comprising representatives of Newry and Mourne, Armagh and Craigavon councils for a final decision.

Yesterday one of those who sits on that committee, Newry and Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin told the News Letter that he understood that officials in Ms O’Neill’s department had been considering the application for months.

“I have today made inquiries and know that this matter has been the subject of discussion by DARD officials for a number of months in terms of its eligibility,” he said.

“I would hope that the minister has not personally intervened to get it to this stage and we need clarification from her on this issue.”

He added: “I note that the minister included in her statement the words ‘rigorous assessment’ referring to the Local Area Group’s [the council group which will decide on funding] part in assessing applications and I can assure the public that this application will certainly receive rigorous assessment, should it even reach that stage in the process.”

Mr Irwin said that he had also tabled an urgent written question in the Assembly asking the Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, whether the controversial 1970s monument had ever received planning permission.

He added: “This application should not receive funding as it is divisive and the monument itself is insulting and hurtful to the many innocent victims of republican terrorism.”

Meanwhile, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said that she would be pressing the EU Agriculture Commissioner on how “a memorial to those who murdered scores of innocent people in the south Armagh area can be considered as promoting cross-community development”, given that the application to Ms O’Neill’s department is for EU funds.

Mrs Dodds added that none of the three local councils — Craigavon, Newry and Mourne or Armagh — should be associating themselves “with a proposal that would be so damaging to community relations and the shared future which the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to see”.