Belfast Telegraph

Appeal from across the divide to end flag burning on bonfires

A republican bonfire burns in the Bogside
A republican bonfire burns in the Bogside
A republican bonfire burns in the Bogside
A republican bonfire burns in the Bogside
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Calls have been made from across the political divide for an end to burning flags, emblems and offensive material on all future bonfires in Londonderry.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said "there seems to be a race to the bottom" with bonfires when it came to causing offence.

Mr Middleton, an MLA for Foyle, said it was now time to collectively work towards celebrating culture without offending others.

His comments were echoed by the chair of Derry and Strabane Council's bonfire committee, the SDLP's Brian Tierney, who said the removal of all flags from all bonfires would be high on the agenda when they next meet.

It follows a bonfire in the Bogside area of Derry where Parachute Regiment flags, banners and emblems were ignited along with British and loyalist flags.

The material burned is being investigated by the PSNI as a possible hate incident following complaints.

Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday, felt there was a lot of hate being stirred up, but is refusing to let it affect her.

She said: "I will not engage with any sort of bigotry or sectarianism, whether that is the flying of Parachute flags or burning Parachute flags.

"I do not allow anything of hate to enter my head, there is no space for it my head.

"I do not understand why anybody would burn pictures of people, there is a lot of hate being stirred up, but I made the decision a while back I will not engage with any sectarianism or bigotry."

As the clean-up got under way yesterday there was a sense of relief in the Bogside that the night did not end in the serious violence of previous years.

Thousands of people had congregated on Thursday night for a community festival which included an incredible procession of fire and culminated in a spectacular firework display.

The contentious bonfire was lit after the community festival.

Local man Paddy McGlinchey said people were glad the night did not end in violence.

He said: "We had a brilliant night here all evening, there was a concert, a procession of light and the fireworks, but the only thing that people want to dwell on is the bonfire, which had nothing to do with the festival.

"Personally I think all bonfires should be banned, but I don't think that is ever going to happen because there is still so much bitterness between the two communities, and the stuff on the bonfire last night was evidence of that."

In previous years poppy wreaths, signs bearing the names of murdered security force personnel and election posters had been burned.

But following protracted negotiations with the council's bonfire committee, agreement had been reached with the young people that the bonfire would not include any of these.

However, material attached to the bonfire showed there is still more work to be done, according to Mr Middleton.

He said: "We need to get to a point where we are no longer burning flags or emblems of any kind on bonfires.

"I appreciate and recognise the hurt caused with all bonfires. As we have seen in the past, with bonfires there seems to be a race to the bottom or to see who can hurt the other side the most.

"This has been a difficult week for this city, all we can do is take a step back and then get around the table and start dialogue collectively so we can try and celebrate our cultures without causing offence.

"Unfortunately in Northern Ireland it is difficult not to cause offence even when none has been intended, but it is important to be as respectful as we can."

Brian Tierney, chairman of the council's bonfire committee, said: "I think Gary Middleton saying it is time to move away from having offensive material on bonfires is a welcome development.

"What happened around the bonfire in the Bogside was wrong and I have no issue in saying that.

"As a committee we were well aware when we entered this process three years ago it would be a process and we would have to keep working towards the full implementation of the policy."

He added: "The removal of all flags, emblems and material that can cause offence is high on our agenda."

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