Let Them Eat Paint

Gerry O'Halloran shares his thoughts on the International Wall on West Belfast's Falls Road. Gerry O'Halloran is a West Belfast resident who campaigns against the lack of citizen empowerment and democratic accountability in the constituency.

On March 21st I read a Facebook post about the international wall. It was the first I'd heard that the wall was to be repainted for the 2016 celebrations. I hadn't seen the booklet that the Facebook post talks about.

I hadn't seen it in any of the papers, not being a supporter of print newspapers or the Andersonstown News. It may have been in them, but I hadn't come across it. I'd seen Carson begin to emerge on the wall, and knew of the iconic image of him holding his hands aloft and wondered what in Gods' name he was doing on the Falls Road. I'm sure others felt the same. I'd no idea that the whole wall was to be repainted, as it has always been chopped into regular slots with different political messages and wondered what message this was going to be.

We were doing a bit of shopping at the Spires centre and my wife spotted the artists sitting at the side of the road in their director chairs and went over for a word. She spoke to Danny Devenney and asked him what Carson was doing on the Falls, and he asked her did she not know her history. "Yes, a bit", but couldn't understand what a slot was doing being allocated to him. This is when we found out that the whole wall was to be painted over as one long mural depicting certain aspects of the events associated with the rising. Now the Facebook post I'd read made sense. The wall was to be repainted but without consultation with all or some of those who already had murals on the wall.
As far as I know the 32C had tried to engage with those behind the repainting because they didn't want their mural disrupted, as their members had paid for it and didn't want it removed. I have to say I don't blame them. The Kieran Nugent Mural suffered a bad end and was removed to put the Carson image there without the full mural being finished for Easter Sunday. This meant on Easter Sunday 100 years after the rising Carson had a slot on the international wall on the Falls Road. I gather the 1916 mural was unfinished due to a delay in completing it due to bad weather.. The obvious question is then, why didn't the artists involved begin earlier or begin their mural from the other end of the wall, which would have meant there would be no Carson image on display for the day that was in it?

The image of Carson as a completed slot on the wall infuriated many, but especially as it was there for such an iconic day. In this light, the defacing was wrong but understandable. The position of the 32C is also understandable. Many murals have been removed, and promises given they'd be replaced only for them never to be seen again. Take the Miriam Daly mural for instance. The really infuriating thing in my view, that led ultimately to the Carson defacing, was the pictures that emerged of the Nugent mural dumped in the grounds of St Comgall's disused school.

The artist calling the defacers mindless morons was totally laughable, when really it was his job or that of Sinn Fein to let the local community know of their plans in a more wide spread way. Sinn Fein are not short of funds. They can get a message out when they want to. Or the artist could have given the details as a story to one of the major media outlets, or simply called a widely advertised meeting in Conway Mill for instance. But I saw no effort at all to spread word around that the repainting was happening: nor any local consultation on the removal of the Nugent mural.

I don't live in the lower Falls but neither do I live a million miles away from it. It was arrogance in the extreme for the artist and Sinn Fein not to engage with the local community, not even to consult them about the plans for the wall, or if they wanted the Nugent mural removed. When will it be replaced for example?

This repainting was obviously done with public money. There was artists brought in from San Diego, Liverpool and El Salvador. That had to be paid for. If public money was involved as the 32C post suggests, then the good people of west Belfast ought to have been more widely consulted than a few Sinn Fein booklets. When will we know the fate of the Nugent mural for instance? They should at least answer that.

So now what? The mural is stretching the length of the wall, but the 32C mural is still intact. The outcome should be interesting. Either way a bit of consultation would have saved a lot of bother ....

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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