The removal of a 1916 Easter Rising memorial in Carnlough has been described as a “shameful and disrespectful” act.
The contentious structure on council-owned property was unveiled back in March at Hurry Head in the village, along with a temporary flag pole bearing the tricolour.
Unionists had branded the unofficial memorial as “illegal” and “provocative”, stressing that those responsible for erecting it had done so without the approval of the local authority.
And the Times understands that Mid and East Antrim Council employed a contractor to take the structure away this morning.
Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan said the actions of the council have caused “considerable hurt and anger” in the village.
“The forcible removal of this monument was shameful and disrespectful,” he added.
“There are loyalist memorials dotted throughout the council area. We are simply asking that all memorials should be respected and treated equally.
“I can’t think if a single issue that has caused so much hurt in Carnlough in recent times.
“I got a phonecall from a lady in tears this morning who asked if our community were ever going to get equal recognition in this council area.”
Mr McMullan now plans to contact the chief executive of the council, Anne Donaghy to call for the monument to be returned.
Meanwhile, SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan branded the actions of the council “hasty” and “hypocritical”, adding that the memorial had been removed “in the dead of night”.
He added: “I deplore this action by the Council. I do not support the erection of any memorial on public property without authorisation.
“However when such a thing happens, the situation requires the utmost sensitivity and patience. The Council action was hasty. The public sees a plethora of huge paramilitary murals in very prominent locations across Mid and East Antrim. All sorts of loyalist flags hang in their hundreds with impunity.
“The hypocrisy of the situation is obvious, and it makes the nationalist community very angry.
“This action is coming from a Council which is willing to spend £60,000 on a single Somme commemoration event, but would not allow its councillors to go on a visit to Dublin just to learn a little about the Easter Rising.
“Acting in the dead of the night shows that the Council knew very well the resentment there would be towards its action, even from those who had nothing to do with the memorial.”
However, DUP Alderman Gregg McKeen defended the council’s decision and told the Times: “It was agreed by all parties that requests to erect memorials and similar structures in the borough should go through the Equality Working Group.
“This memorial in Carnlough did not go through the proper channels and the council had to be seen to be taking action, or it could have set a dangerous precedent.”