Politicians across the divide have united in their condemning of the erection of a paramilitary billboard in Larne’s Craigyhill estate.
The large sign, which appeared on the Linn Road just before the New Year, bears an image of a masked gunman and is emblazoned with the words ‘South East Antrim 3rd Batt D Coy, Craigyhill Provost Team’.
The Times understands the sign is located on private land.
Several elected representatives have spoken out against the sign, branding it “intimidating” and “a backwards step” for community relations in the area.
East Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said: “Apart from the sinister message that this billboard sends out that the unionist paramilitary gangs of the UDA and UFF are still active in the area, it does not to help the image of the Larne area.
“Over the past few years we have seen tensions rise in the area between the various unionist paramilitary groups, so this billboard is unhelpful as we try an defuse tensions.
“I am concerned that as in previous instances when tension rose between various loyalist groupings it ended with a rise in sectarian incidents.”
Larne Mayor Cllr Martin Wilson (SDLP) has appealed for local people to stay calm and not be intimidated.
“I don’t know what the motives are behind the erection of this sign are, but it does nothing to improve community relations,” he added.
“I would call for the people responsible to look at the bigger picture, and remove this sign as a gesture to the people of Craigyhill.”
Alliance councillor Gerardine Mulvenna described the sign as “provocative” and said local residents had been left “shocked and intimidated”.
She added: “It is like stepping back in time. This sends out the wrong message and I want to condemn it.”
DUP representative, Cllr Gregg McKeen also expressed concern regarding the depiction of a gunman on the sign.
“I am not against murals, provided they are in the right context,” he added.
“This particular sign is a backward step and something we don’t need in Larne.”
Meanwhile, a Craigyhill resident contacted the Larne Times this week to voice his “disturbance” at the erection of the sign.
The resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “Craigyhill is a mixed area with a Catholic church and primary school nearby and residents in the area from both sides of the community have a right not to be intimidated in such a way. “
He added: “The sign is near a shopping unit, community centre and the MUGA where young people frequently play sports and congregate. It has clearly been sited here for maximum viewing.
“I hope people with influence in the town will use it to seek the removal of such a threatening object and to build on the commendable work done to promote good relations in the town.”