by STACEY HEANEY
A WAR of words has broken out over a statue which is to be erected in the middle of Lisburn as a tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The 19 foot high statue is due to go up in Market Square within the next three months, but SDLP Assembly candidate Pat Catney said he believes "where there should be a united political and community focus on relevant bread and butter issues we now appear to be heading towards a squalid sectarian stunt".
His comments follow Sinn Fein MLA Paul Butler's criticism of the memorial, which he described it as "insensitive and intimidating" to the city's nationalist population.
However, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, a former member of the UDR himself, said he was 'proud' Lisburn had been chosen for the memorial to 'men and women who served the entire community'.
And the city's DUP Mayor, Alderman Paul Porter said there had been no criticism from any party when the project was brought to the council several months ago.
The statue was commissioned by the UDR Memorial Trust to form a "very substantial and fitting tribute to all those who served".
Mr. Butler, however, said there is "anger" among nationalists in the city about the decision to put the statue on council land.
"That is totally wrong because a district council should be a neutral institution, shared by both communities, so they shouldn't be associated with things like a UDR statue," he said.
And Mr Catney said: "We have to live in the real world. That reality check is something that is obviously missing from those who have conceived, and backed this flawed initiative. Lisburn faces significant challenges during the current recession and it is vital all sides of the community work together to fight for the city instead of rekindling age old sectarian disputes.
He said he understood that "within sectors of the Unionist and Protestant population the UDR was viewed as a legitimate Security Forces element during the Troubles.
"Nobody is saying that everything linked to the UDR during its three decade plus history was wrong. To even try and make that point flies in the face of reason. Of course there were individuals who joined up and served for reasons of conscience. There were many who suffered death and injury because of that choice.
"However the problem with the UDR is that over the course of its history there were elements within its ranks that were stained with naked sectarianism. Terrible acts were carried out by some serving members of the UDR. It led to the murders of many innocent people."
Mr Catney added that in the run up to the Assembly and Local Government elections in May the timing surrounding the statue's unveiling is at "best an insensitive mistake and at worst a calculated and provocative act that will inevitably harm community relations."
He said that instead of unveiling the statue in what he claims will be "a flag waving exercise without any dignity', moth-balling the bronze sculpture is the only sensible solution.
But Mr. Donaldson said: "As a former member of the UDR, I am very proud of the fact that Lisburn is the venue for this memorial for the men and women of the UDR who served the entire community through some of the most difficult years of the Troubles. It is entirely appropriate that they are recognised and where better than Lisburn where the regiment was first raised and where the Headquarters were based for many years?"
He said he was 'deeply disappointed, but not surprised' by the opposition.
"I think it's a bit rich for someone like Paul Butler to criticise this when right across Northern Ireland, including his own constituency area of Twinbrook and Poleglass, there are IRA memorials which many people find deeply offensive. The double standards of Sinn Fein is incredible. Obviously there is no comparison between the illegal IRA memorials to this statue which has full planning approval, the support of Lisburn City Council and the vast majority of people welcome its presence."
And Alderman Porter said the memorial should be "welcomed to thank the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice" during political unrest in Northern Ireland.
"Whenever this was brought before the council several months ago, there were no objections from any political party" he said. "It is regrettable and despicable, as we approach an election, that some political parties now try to criticise this issue.
"As Mayor, one of the themes I have had has been the army and British Legion and the sacrifice soldiers have made. The heart of the army is in Lisburn, after all we are a garrison town."
His DUP colleague, MLA Paul Givan added: "Lisburn City Council has carried out a full Equality 1mpact Assessment that approved the Council's decision to allow Council land to be used for this purpose, which unsurprisingly, when it doesn't suit Paul Butler's view of equality, he ignores.
"Paul Butler fails to acknowledge that when the UDR went operational on the 1st April 1970 it had a strength of 2440 of which 946 were Catholics, many of whom the IRA ruthlessly targeted and intimidated: something experienced by many civilians in the Catholic community at the hands of the IRA.
"The UDR operated to the highest professional standards within the Army and saved countless lives both Catholic and Protestant through its members' bravery and sacrifice."
WHAT DO YOU THINK? HAVE YOUR SAY.
You can email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org