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Column Removing sectarian murals for visitors? It's sweeping problems under the carpet

Some are suggesting murals and flags should be removed along the Giro d’Italia route in Northern Ireland, but that’s just avoiding the real problem, writes Peter Osborne.

WHAT ARE THE traits of a dysfunctional family or household? Maybe there is conflict and tension. Maybe there is poor communication. Maybe people don’t understand each other and maybe they don’t want to understand each other.

There may be control issues or maybe there is no respect for diversity, with an expectation that all family members will behave in the same way.

At times maybe there is bullying, intimidation and violence.

In a dysfunctional household when visitors come calling there may also be a concerted effort to hide the problems and put on the “outward” face – to show that things are “normal”. No problems here – until the visitors leave. Then back to as it is.

Visitors are coming so let’s clean the place up

Is that what is happening in this region when it is suggested flags and emblems, and murals, are removed from the Giro d’Italia route?

Are we the dysfunctional family? Visitors are coming so let’s clean the place up; let’s not argue while they are here. Let’s pretend it’s like this all the time. Isn’t it great?

But for many people flags on lamp posts and murals with gunmen in aggressive poses with bullying and intimidating messages are an everyday reality, not just on the route of the Giro d’Italia.

For many, they demarcate territory and with them come the messages they are designed to send.

I understand why there are calls to remove the flags, emblems and murals on the race route. Something is better than nothing.

We should recognise this behaviour isn’t normal

But isn’t the most important thing that like many dysfunctional families we recognise that some behaviour isn’t normal. We simply don’t understand each other and maybe still don’t want to understand each other.

Underlying everything is the need to recognise that building a shared and reconciled society will take decades and generations, and will need major resourcing and commitment to make it happen.

And what does not help in that work is allowing intimidating and bullying images to shape space and distort attitudes.

And agencies have a duty of care to all people, including those that feel intimidated whether they are a member of a dysfunctional family or whether they are just living their lives within the community – our community.

Peter Osborne is Chair of the Community Relations Council and can be followed on Twitter at @PeterOsborne_

This article first appeared on

Read: Full details of Giro d’Italia route in Dublin and Belfast revealed

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