Oliver Wright: Part of the historical record – and a tourist attraction

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Some years ago I did a stint reporting in Northern Ireland. I recall spending the night in a house in south-west Belfast with a rather ugly mural of King Billy on the wall.

This wasn't a part of the city known for its sectarianism – but the owners (certainly not loyalists) made it clear that they didn't have a choice about its presence. It just wasn't something you questioned.

So now, in the new Northern Ireland, has the time come to rid the country of sectarian murals altogether? I'm not so sure.

Just like the republican rebel songs whose lyrics would cause offence to some people in England, the murals are an important part of Irish history on both sides.

From the haunting portraits of the 1981 hunger strikers to the graphic image of a soldier smashing down a door in Bogside – they serve to remind people how much better life has got.

And curiously they are also helping the economy. Tourists to Belfast can now go on "terror tours" of which the murals are an integral attraction.

The murals should now be seen as historical rather political symbols. Not all of them are good and not all of them should be kept. But at least some should remain. How about a listing system for murals?

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