Outrage at plan to remove old, unclaimed or hazardous headstones
Outrage has erupted over proposed plans to remove unclaimed headstones and memorials in Belfast that are deemed unsafe or unauthorised, it can be revealed.
Belfast City Council has been accused of "wiping out" layers of history as replacement markers will not carry names of the deceased.
It has also emerged that around 80pc of gravestones inspected at Roselawn Cemetery were considered "illegal" as they were erected by monumental masons not officially recognised by the council.
Plans are underway to inspect the city's cemeteries to identify illegal headstones and memorials that don't meet health and safety standards. In these cases a letter will be sent to the grave owner at the last known address to instruct them what they need to do to make the headstone safe.
However, where an owner cannot be found, council staff will remove the monument.
The grave owners, known as deed holders, where unauthorised memorials are found, will also be contacted and asked to seek retrospective permission and pay the required fees.
They will have three months to act, before receiving a warning letter. If they do not act, the council will remove the memorial.
The council is responsible for overall safety in cemeteries, but deed holders are responsible for maintaining memorials so that they do not become a hazard.
But historian and former Sinn Fein councillor, Tom Hartley - who has written two books about Belfast City Cemetery and Milltown Cemetery - said the plans were "appalling".
"It's eradicating history because headstones are part of the fabric of this city and they would be simply wiping away layers and layers of history.
"There are old graves in the City Cemetery and Dundonald and these are very important historical sites as they directly link us to the history of many individuals who contributed towards this city, and headstones are a very precious historical record for me.
"You can get all sorts of interpretations from headstones and if the council are threatening to get rid of headstones, particularly older ones, this is appalling."
A council spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph that markers would be placed at unsafe headstones in all cemeteries.
"The markers referred to are to indicate unsafe memorials, they will not carry names. There is an installation charge for erecting memorials," she added.
Jim Rodgers, an Ulster Unionist councillor and chairman of the Cemeteries and Crematorium Working Group, said: "Headstones are falling over and injuring people and sometimes hospitalising them.
"This is a very sensitive area and we want to handle it in such a manner that we are not going to cause distress and worry to any family whose loved one is buried in that grave.
"We have got to ensure that all our cemeteries are safe for people to visit."
He added: "We were startled by the number of headstones that were not fitted properly and were not done by one of the recognised sculptors."