'A new low' as stolen poppy wreath burned on bonfire
Unionists are furious after a poppy wreath apparently stolen from a war memorial was burned on a nationalist bonfire in Londonderry over the weekend.
A DUP MLA described the incident as "a new low".
The poppy wreath, which is believed to have been stolen from the War Memorial in the Diamond in Derry city centre, was burned on a bonfire in the Creggan area.
A Union flag and other emblems were also torched at a fire in the Bogside.
Police in the city have confirmed they are investigating the incidents as possible hate crimes.
Chief Inspector Tony Callaghan confirmed police were examining all the evidence from the weekend to see if any crimes had been committed.
He said: "We are investigating what went on during the bonfires at the weekend.
"Such behaviour is offensive and disgraceful especially if it is of a sectarian nature."
He continued: "I have asked detectives to look at all the evidence including CCTV and other evidence-gathering techniques from the weekend and if they find anything criminal a file shall be prepared for the PPS."
The Chief Inspector said incidents like those that occurred at the weekend had "the potential to raise tensions".
He added: "The solution to this problem does not lie with the police, although we have a role to play, but with the communities themselves who must address these problems. But I can assure everyone hate crimes of this nature are taken very seriously by the PSNI."
DUP MLA Gary Middleton described the burning of the poppy wreath as "a new low" and added: "This is something that should not have happened and any right-thinking person would agree with that.
"The poppy does not belong to one section of the community but is recognised right across the community.
"We must all work together to ensure there is no repeat of this action which must be condemned wholeheartedly. The bonfire season is now over but we must start now to prepare for next year to ensure we don't have a repeat of this."
SDLP councillor John Boyle described the burning of the wreath as "a display of hate". He said: "I would call on those behind that act to reflect on what they have done. The poppy means a lot to a lot of people in our society and that has to be respected."
Sinn Fein in Derry has called for action to be taken to end bonfires altogether.
Councillor Kevin Campbell said that bonfires have descended into sectarian hate-fests and no longer reflect the tradition they were originally built for.
He said: "For many years bonfires were burned within communities for different reasons and were usually small, local events attended by families. However over the past few years we have seen bonfires getting bigger and bigger and adorned with flags, effigies, posters and other paraphernalia that are intended to deliberately insult the opposite tradition. Whether it is on a nationalist or unionist bonfire this is wrong and this has allowed the bonfire culture to descend into drink-fuelled hate-fests.
"Added to this is the tension in the build-up to the fires with intimidation of local residents and community representatives, environmental issues and the stealing of pallets and we can see why the majority of the local communities, especially in nationalist areas, want an end to this tradition.
"I would support communities in providing alternatives to the bonfires and engaging with young people in order to resolve this problem once and for all.
"I am calling on politicians, statutory agencies and council officials to work towards consigning this practice to history."