Members of the Cork Street Names Campaign took what spokesman, Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, described as “direct action to remove the name of Victoria, the Famine Queen”, from street name signs in Cork yesterday.
They daubed black paint over the name ‘Victoria’ on several signs along Victoria Road and Victoria Cross arising out of a campaign launched last October to rename Cork streets which commemorate British “aristocrats and war criminals” after Irish heroes.
The group also spoke out earlier this week against the establishment of a Victorian Quarter to promote the city’s MacCurtain Street area.
Lord Mayor Cllr Des Cahill led condemnation last night of the attack on the street signs: “It’s outrageous. It’s criminal damage and they should be prosecuted.”
Historian and Independent Cllr Kieran McCarthy described it as “wanton vandalism” and urged city officials to pursue those responsible to the full extent of the law: “I am very open to different interpretations of history, and will listen to protesters on any topic but this is wanton vandalism.
They are defacing public property and erasing Cork history without informed democratic debate.
“No petition has been sent to the city council within the proper channels from residents of these streets in support of this ‘campaign’ and any potential renaming of streets. What I have heard is coming from concerned citizens about the whitewashing of history.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion but not to engage in civil disobedience in damaging municipal property — it is a criminal offence and ultimately wasting taxpayers’ money as the signs will have to be cleaned up,” he said.
But Mr Ó Cadhla defended the action as “civil disobedience” which he said is designed to “remove Victoria’s name in order to respect the memory of the millions who starved and were dispossessed under her reign”.
“This year is the 170th anniversary of BLACK ‘47 — the Famine was an act of genocide against the Irish people. It is intended that today’s direct civil disobedience will continue. We are not hiding or skulking around at night time.”
He said it is being done openly, and that participants take full responsibility for their actions, which he claimed is to “serve the people” and help to “raise a sense of national self-respect and dignity”. “If someone wants to charge us, we will answer to that,” he said.
He also said the group has prepared a ‘comprehensive proposal’ to rename some 100 street and place names in Cork with British links, and they have asked the Lord Mayor to meet a delegation to consider it.
But Mr Cahill said it is a matter for the council’s roads committee to discuss: “Mr Ó Cadhla lives in a parallel universe. He runs unsuccessfully for election and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he protests in an awkward manner. It’s not our job to rewrite history, and it’s certainly not his job. I abhor what has been done here and those responsible should be prosecuted.”
Council spokesman Paul Moynihan said they are taking an extremely serious view of the incident.
“We are now trying to establish whether there was a breach of road traffic legislation and we will be exploring our legal options.”