THE UVF have given a George Best mural in east Belfast the red card.
The loyalist paramilitary group are replacing a council-funded wall mural of the Northern Ireland soccer legend in east Belfast with a painting of a masked and armed UVF gunman.
The mural is currently undergoing a makeover at Inverwood Court in Sydenham.
It is being seen as a move by the UVF to stamp its presence in the area.
In 2010, the mural had been dedicated to the footballer who died in 2005 after battle with the booze.
A black and gold plaque was inscribed with the words: “Dedicated to the legend that was George Best.”
Best, who grew up on the Cregagh estate in east Belfast, was signed at 17 by Manchester Utd and became an Old Trafford legend.
Belfast City Council splashed out £1,500 of ratepayers’ money towards the project which was unveiled in front of members of Best’s family.
The council said on Wednesday that it was “unaware of any plans” to replace the Best painting.
“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 in 2010,” a council statement said.
“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.”
Councillors are now planning to investigate the terms of the agreement for the funding.
Alliance Party councillor Andrew Webb said: “It is deeply disappointing that such images are reappearing again after so much hard work was carried out with regards to reimaging.
“I will be following up to see that just what terms were agreed when this funding was put in place.
“Obvioulsy when the council agrees to fund projects such as this to change areas for the better and create more welcoming, less intimidating space it would be on the basis that the change is permanent,” he added.
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.
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.
Best, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to have graced the British game, was the son of Dickie Best, an east Belfast shipyard worker.
He 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.