A Derry & Strabane Councillor who was involved in erecting a memorial to Hunger Strikers in the City Cemetery has warned that any attempt to remove it will be rejected.
Warren Robinson was speaking in response to comments made by DUP Councillor Graham Warke during a discussion around a tourism initiative at the historic cemetery.
Speaking at a recent council meeting, Colr Warke criticism the Republican statue of what he called an “armed terrorist”.
Colr Warke later said that people from Protestant backgrounds were being confronted with “a 10ft masked terrorist statue” when they entered the cemetery.
He said the cemetery was supposed to be a “shared space” but that Protestant people found the statue “very offensive”.
Calling for its removal, he said: “In this time and age now there is no need for a statue of a terrorist with a gun. It is time to move on.”
The monument was erected in 2000 and marks the graves of local Hunger Strikers Patsy O’Hara and Michael Devine.
Colr. Robinson, whose uncle Neil McMonagle, an INLA volunteer, is also buried within the Republican Socialist plot, said he was shocked that Colr. Warke “decided to make this an issue after 16 years”.
He said that the memorial has remained the same since it was installed, adding that an attempt by the DUP to have it removed at the time failed as the committee which developed the memorial had at all times followed all guidelines and procedures.
He added that the statue was a product of the recent conflict, and was simply a reflection of what the community in Derry has come through.
“I believe our community has moved on and do not want to become embroiled in the sectarianisation of memorials. No one community should be allowed to dictate how another community remembers their dead,” Colr Robinson said.
“The statue wasn’t designed to be controversial, it was built as a tribute to the men buried in the plot.
“The people of Derry paid for this, they supported the rights of the families to build this memorial at the time and since then.
“I was on that committee with members of both the O’Hara and Devine families and in a very short space of time we managed to raise over £20,000 from the people of this city to build this fitting tribute.”
He added: “This is very much a people’s memorial to the hunger strikers.
“This project was wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supported by the ordinary people of this city who simply wanted to build a fitting tribute to the hunger strikers and their comrades from this area.”
Colr Robinson said the families of those commemorated by the memorial were hurt that the issue being raised again, adding:“His calls will not gain any support outside of his narrow political base and he knows full well that any attempt to interfere with this memorial will be rejected. People have moved on and the dead within our shared cemetery should be allowed to rest in peace.”