George Best mural replaced by image of UVF gunman

Mural under construction at Inverwood Court The new UVF mural is currently under construction at Inverwood Court

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A mural depicting George Best is being replaced by a paramilitary image of a masked gunman in the footballer's native east Belfast.

The mural, which is still in the process of being altered, is in Inverwood Court, Sydenham.

The new image is dedicated to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a paramilitary group that murdered more than 500 people during the Troubles.

Best, who died in 2005, played for Manchester United and Northern Ireland.

'Sectarianism'

The mural had been dedicated to the footballer three years ago and at the time, Belfast City Council contributed public money towards the project.

On Wednesday, the council said in a statement that it was "unaware of any plans" to replace the artwork.

It said: "In 2010, Belfast City Council, as part of the council's PEACE III project 'Tackling the Physical Manifestations of Sectarianism', provided £1,500 towards the material costs of a mural in memory of George Best.

"This mural replaced an old UVF mural and was welcomed by the community at the time.

"There was no stipulation, relating to the granting of funding for the original project, as to how long the mural had to remain in place," the council statement added.

Cultural heritage

As part of the Northern Ireland peace process, there has been a drive to remove the guns from Belfast's streetscapes by replacing paramilitary murals with less controversial images, reflecting the city's cultural heritage.

Murals east Belfast In 2011, two new paramilitary murals appeared in east Belfast showing masked men with guns

In 2008, a UVF mural in Dee Street was painted over with a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia, not far from where the author CS Lewis was born.

The Aslan artwork was unveiled by Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson, who said at the time it "indicates to me that people are moving on and people want to see a brighter future for young people".

However, three years later, new paramilitary murals appeared on walls on Dee Street and on the nearby Newtownards Road.

Some local people expressed concerns about the paintings, which depict masked men holding machine guns, but they are still in place.

'Dreams'

The former football mural at Inverwood Court featured a black and gold plaque with an inscription that read: "Dedicated to the legend that was George Best.

"Work hard to develop the talent you were born with, be dedicated and embrace every chance you have to learn, then your dreams can be realised."

George Best mural before it was painted over The George Best mural was erected with the help of public funding three years ago

Best, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to have graced the British game, was the son of an east Belfast shipyard worker.

He grew up on the city's Cregagh estate and as a schoolboy, his talent was spotted by a Manchester United scout.

He signed as a professional for the club when he was 17, and went on to win two league titles and the European Cup with Manchester United, in 1968.

Best also won 37 international caps for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals.

He died aged 59 after a high-profile battle with alcoholism.

Up to 100,000 people lined the streets of his native city for his funeral, which was held at Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government.

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