A row has erupted in the Irish midlands over an artwork featuring messages written by republican hunger strikers in Long Kesh Prison.
Longford artist Shane Cullen has defended his work, which is featured in Athlone’s new Luan Gallery, pointing out that its content as a matter of historical record.
He said the prisoners’ writings allowed the public an insight into history.
The large piece features messages which were written on cigarette papers and smuggled to and from prisoners during the 1981 Hunger Strike in which ten republican prisoners died.
Fine Gael councillor Mark Cooney, son of former justice minister Paddy Cooney, tabled a motion at Monday night’s town council meeting seeking the artwork’s removal.
Mr Cooney had argued that the installation was offensive to members of the 26 County police, prison guards, and others affected by the conflict in the North.
Sinn Fein representative, Paul Hogan, dismissed Mr Cooney’s motion as “censorship”.
During the meeting, it was revealed that around 1,200 people had visited the gallery since it opened less than two months ago, and that only three had recorded objections to the artwork.
A polarisation of political opinion in the midlands has long put republicans into sharp conflict with right-wing elements.
The motion was backed by Mark Cooney’s father, Paddy, who served as a highly controversial 26-County justice minister between 1973 and 1977.
Cooney is notorious for his links to the Garda ‘Heavy Gang’, which violently suppressed Irish republicanism in the 70s. He also once ordered the coffin of hunger strike victim Frank Stagg to be covered in concrete, to prevent his burial in a republican plot.
Athlone Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Hogan branded the motion a narrow minded attack on Irish art and an attempt to censor history.
He said Shane Cullen is a highly respected artist who has exhibited internationally.
“This work has been exhibited in many places including London,” he said, and pointed out that Cullen’s best known work is a piece on the Good Friday peace Agreement.
“Councillor Cooney is asking this council to censor a piece based on the tragic events in the prisons in the North in the 1980s, events that were milestones in Irish history.
“The first person to raise this issue was none other than former Minister Paddy Cooney, a member of a government in the 1970s notorious for political censorship of the media.
“Facing up to the legacy of our country’s history is a responsibility we all share, no matter how uncomfortable some aspects may be for some people. Censoring history is never the way forward.”