Mandelson bars peace sculpture

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Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is blocking plans for a peace sculpture made of decommissioned weapons to be erected in the grounds of Stormont in Belfast.

Sir Richard Branson has commissioned a £50,000 work from 97-year-old Josefina de Vasconcellos, the world's oldest living sculptor. Mr Mandelson fears it would further exacerbate community divisions.

The proposed work, Reconciliation, is the brainchild of the international ministry team at Coventry Cathedral, which works to reconcile zones of conflict world-wide. It would continue a series by de Vasconcellos, whose other works on the theme can be seen in Coventry Cathedral, at the Berlin Wall and in Hiroshima.

The idea of the sculpture has been widely welcomed by politicians in Northern Ireland. However, the proposal to make the new work from decommissioned weapons is causing disquiet at the Northern Ireland Office.

It is understood that officials fear that nationalists would demand the inclusion of weapons from the security forces, but that such a move could provoke hostility from loyalists, thereby wrecking the project.

Further talks are due to take place at the beginning of next month.

Josefina de Vasconcellos, who lives in Cumbria, was honoured last week by the Society of Portrait Sculptors with its most prestigious award, the International Jean Masson Davidson Medal.

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