A unionist MP has declared himself “very sad” over the emergence of fresh paramilitary images on walls in his constituency, and insisted dialogue is the best way to try and solve the problem.
Danny Kinahan, UUP MP for South Antrim, was speaking after gun-toting figures were painted on a wall last week in Erskine Park in Ballyclare.
A source from the town had said that another UDA mural had also been painted in Charles Drive recently.
They believe that, over the last several weeks, between 15 and 20 walls in the town have been marked with graffiti claiming that the UDA or UVF have “booked” them for future use.
The source said that ordinary residents feel “threatened”, but are effectively “voiceless” and have “nobody to fight for them”.
Last week, a resident had told the Times they were “disgusted” by what was emerging around them.
“As other towns in the country are moving away from this, it’s distressing a small minority are still trying to drag the people of Ballyclare back to the past,” they had said.
Danny Kinahan, who won the south Antrim seat from the DUP in 2015, said he had not “got to the bottom” of why they are appearing now.
“It’s very sad to see anything happening afresh,” he said.
He said the Ballyclare murals have appeared in the face of some “really good, positive moves” by loyalists elsewhere, such as the replacement of many paramilitary flags with a newly-designed Somme commemorative flag.
Members of the South-East Antrim faction of the UDA had been blamed for street disturbances in Carrickfergus on July 1, on the very same night that a large-scale Somme commemoration took place there.
A recruitment mural for the group had been unveiled in Carrickfergus last year, and it is thought elements of this regional faction could be behind in the current activity in Ballyclare too.
Mr Kinahan said: “I hope they stop. We’ve got to talk to them and find a way of stopping them upping the pace of going in [what is] the wrong direction.
“But we have got to know more about what they need and what they want.
“And equally they’ve got to realise that you can’t always just have everything you want either.”
He added: “The UDA and UVF, you’ve got to remember, are people. And they’re people with grievances.
“And it’s a really difficult line, because they may be a paramilitary but at the same time they represent people and our job is you’ve got to talk to and represent all your constituents and try and move things along.
“That’s where I think it’s our duty to talk to everyone.
“And I enjoy doing it, because it is then that you really hear what people’s concerns are, and what you’ve got to do.”
It was put to him that talking to representatives of such groups may perhaps be seen as legitimising or encouraging their behaviour.
He replied: “It is in a way. But at the same time, it is there, and it is happening, and we mustn’t shirk what we are there to do.”
It would be “absolutely wrong” not to talk to them, he said.
What PSNI have said about terrorist images:
Inspector Colin Ash said: “Police are aware of a fresh mural in the Erskine Park area of Ballyclare. No complaints have been received by officers at this time.
“No single body or agency has the answer to all of the issues surrounding the flying or the removal of flags or murals in Northern Ireland.
“The experience within policing shows that the approach most likely to provide for public safety and prevention of disorder is based on the principles of engagement between local communities working with agencies including local police and resulting in local decision-making.”