Belfast Telegraph

Police urged to act over Martin McGuinness effigy and racist banner on bonfires

By Suzanne Breen

Loyalists who put an effigy of Martin McGuinness in his coffin and a racist banner about a Celtic striker on bonfires should be prosecuted for hate crimes, politicians have demanded.

A black coffin adorned with the face of the late Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister and the slogan 'F*** the IRA' was placed on a bonfire near the Castlereagh Road in east Belfast.

A racist banner about Celtic striker Scott Sinclair was hung on another pyre in the area.

It came despite a warning from DUP leader Arlene Foster, who urged bonfire builders not to "play into the hands" of critics who want to demonise their culture.

Sinn Fein and SDLP election posters, and Irish tricolours, were placed on bonfires across Northern Ireland. Naomi Long's posters went up in flames on the controversial Bloomfield Walkway bonfire in east Belfast.

Bonfires across Belfast were significantly bigger than in previous years. Homes beside the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire were boarded up yesterday to protect them from heat damage.

The PSNI said it was investigating complaints about "distasteful" materials placed on some bonfires.

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill called for an end to what she called the "annual display of hate".

She said: "Once again, we have witnessed bonfires across the North being festooned with stolen Sinn Fein election posters, Irish national flags and other emblems.

"The theft and burning of posters from any party, as well as flags, effigies and other symbols is not culture, it is a hate crime.

"I have written to the PSNI Chief Constable and told him it should be treated as such by the PSNI and appropriate steps taken.

"There is also a responsibility on unionist political parties and the loyal orders to show some leadership on this issue and end this annual display of hate once and for all."

Martin McGuinness' son Emmett tweeted: "I am very thankful that I was raised by parents never to hate anyone or anything. Michelle O'Neill is right, the annual display of hate must end."

Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney said the bonfire builders' behaviour stood "in stark contrast to the work that Martin McGuiness did to build reconciliation and reach out the hand of friendship".

He said the effigy was "grossly insulting" to McGuinness's family and he added that it was "unacceptable" that unionist politicians refused to condemn "this kind of hate crime".

Sinn Fein's Westminster candidate in North Belfast, John Finucane, contacted police after learning that some of his campaign posters had been attached to a bonfire.

The solicitor son of murdered lawyer Pat Finucane tweeted a picture of the bonfire and said: "I have reported this hate crime & theft to PSNI to allow them to act urgently."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "Burning images of politicians, the Irish national flag & tyres. What a warped interpretation of Ulster Protestant/unionist culture."

Yesterday, DUP leader Mrs Foster urged bonfire builders to show respect to others.

"Bonfires on the Eleventh Night have long been part of the unionist culture," she said.

"Those who have waged a campaign of demonisation against such celebrations should dial down the rhetoric.

"To those who build bonfires, I urge them to not play into the hands of those who want to demonise the culture. They should be respectful of their neighbours," she said.

"Endangering property and lives should not be a concern for residents on the Eleventh Night. These should be events that all the family can enjoy. We will work constructively with communities to achieve this."

Mrs Foster said she wanted Northern Ireland to move forward to a place where Orange culture was supported and respected by all.

"I do not want any culture to threaten or dominate any other," she said.

"A shared society in Northern Ireland must have room for all but without elevating or promoting one section of society above another.

"Despite the image sometimes portrayed, it is not politics that dominates the Twelfth July, however. It is the families who come together, as they have done for generations. It is the acquaintances that are refreshed in the field or on the street."

Mrs Foster said that the "celebration of civil and religious liberty" was central to the Twelfth.

"Hopefully we can all help build a Northern Ireland where there is respect, tolerance and support for all our cultures and traditions, celebrated equally with one another," she added.

The Fire Service said last night that between 6pm and 9pm it had received a total of 97 emergency calls and mobilised to 65 operational incidents. It said that 13 confirmed bonfire incidents were resolved during this time.

As of 11pm, the Fire Service had 32 appliances dealing with 24 incidents, "a significant number" of which were bonfire related.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: "We take hate crime very seriously and actively investigate all incidents reported to us."

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