Graffiti attack on Mid Ulster Council after ban on sale of poppies
Vandalism at a council office has been linked to a controversial ban on the sale of poppies.
Graffiti was sprayed on the Dungannon office of the new Mid Ulster Council overnight on Thursday.
The vandals scrawled, 'Leave our culture alone', and, 'Hands off our poppy'.
A suspect device near the building also sparked a security alert.
Staff had to be evacuated and those arriving for work yesterday morning were turned back.
Army bomb squad officers were sent to the offices on Circular Road. However, the object was later declared to be harmless.
The incident has been linked to a recent decision by councillors to ban the sale of poppies at all Mid Ulster council buildings.
The controversial policy not to stock the tributes was passed at a meeting of the then shadow council by 24 votes to 15.
The interim measure will be put to public consultation at a later date.
Sinn Fein councillor Linda Dillon, who chairs the Mid Ulster Council, said it was the right decision despite yesterday's incident.
She said it was the wrong way for people to express their opposition to the policy.
"I defend anyone's right to have an opinion and they are entitled to voice that opinion. However, this is not the way to do it," she said.
"We made the right move in terms of emblems, and it is all emblems - not just the poppy but also the Easter lily.
"The decision was taken that council premises would be a neutral environment, and I think it's the right move forward."
DUP councillor Kim Ashton said that while she condemned the vandalism, the poppy ban had caused anger among unionists.
"We warned the council at the time that this wouldn't be acceptable, and it certainly hasn't been accepted," she said.
The outgoing MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew, condemned the incident as an attack on democracy.
"It is wrong and isn't reflective of the people who live in the Dungannon area," she said.
"The new super council's decision on the sale of emblems, both the poppy and Easter lily, was taken so that council buildings would be a shared space, open and welcome to all.
"Unfortunately there are still those in our society who would wish to counter this progressive policy.
"They will not succeed in deterring the council from its valuable work."
Mid Ulster District Council is an amalgamation of Dungannon, Cookstown and Magherafelt councils. One of the nationalist-dominated authority's first decisions was to ban the sale of political emblems on council priority, including the poppy. Nationalists said the ban was aimed at creating neutral buildings. However, unionists reacted angrily. Former soldier Doug Beattie, who received the Military Cross, said it was a "shameful" decision.