Belfast Telegraph

I'm dismayed but not surprised, says son of murdered prison officer over bonfire outrage

kyle black
kyle black
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The son of murdered prison officer David Black has said it is sad that seeing his father's name burnt on republican bonfires is no longer a surprise.

David Black and PSNI officer Stephen Carroll, both murdered by dissident republicans, and victims' campaigner Willie Frazer, who died in June, were all referenced on a bonfire lit in Newry on Thursday night.

So too the 18 soldiers who died in an IRA bomb attack at Narrow Water, Warrenpoint, in August 1979.

Police said they were treating it as a hate incident.

The offensive material drew criticism from unionists and nationalists.

Kyle Black, now a DUP councillor, said that while condemnation of such incidents is welcomed, Sinn Fein need to do more if they are serious about creating an inclusive society based on respect for all.

His father was killed in a gun attack on the M1 in 2012.

"I will never understand the mentality of those who seek to cause further hurt by placing the names of our loved ones on a bonfire," Mr Black said.

"The same thing happened last year in Londonderry and we'll have to wait and see if that incident is repeated next week, but we're at a stage where this sort of thing is not a surprise to my family, and that's sad. It's not something you'll ever get used to and there's no denying it does bring back raw family emotions.

"The condemnation from all sides is welcomed but there are many more elements in society than those putting out condemnations. Sinn Fein needs to address this and try to reach out to unionists with serious intent if they mean what they say in wanting to create a society based on respect.

"The double standards need to stop, the glorification of terrorists they engage in has to end and then we can move some way towards a better society."

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill called the bonfire "deplorable sectarian bigotry" which "has no place in this society". She added: "This is not republican. This is not acceptable."

South Down Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard called the bonfire "a despicable act of mindless criminality and bigotry by those who have done nothing, are doing nothing, and will always do nothing to advance the cause of Irish republicanism".

Mickey Brady, the MP for Armagh and Newry, also said hate crimes must be eradicated.

"Sinn Fein condemn the burning of flags, emblems, effigies and posters on bonfires," he said.

"Such actions are hate crimes and must be eradicated. Those involved with it have brought huge dismay and great disgrace to Newry."

While welcoming the condemnation, the sister of a south Down RUC officer murdered by the IRA during the Troubles also called on Sinn Fein to back up its words with action.

Sandra Harrison, whose brother Alan Johnston was killed in 1988, is now chair of MAST victims' group in Kilkeel.

"I have nothing but total disgust for what I've seen," she said. "There seems to be no end to the depths these people want to sink to. It's gut-wrenching for people who have lost loved ones. We all feel it. But words are easy to say. Sinn Fein need to realise they can't have it both ways.

"How are we to believe they're sincere in their condemnation when they're willing to stand and give passionate orations at memorial events for those who committed such crimes in the Troubles? They can't have it both ways if they want people to believe they're serious about an all-inclusive society."

UUP councillor David Taylor, who reported the bonfire messages to police, said action to eradicate the displays of hatred is needed. "People with influence in these areas need to step up to stop this happening year after year," he said. "People need to start showing some compassion across all society as this only serves to compound the trauma of families and that's unacceptable."

South East Fermanagh Foundation victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson challenged those responsible and their supporters to end the "psychological terrorisation of victims".

"The images and messages on the bonfire are designed to hurt and to intimidate. Those responsible are not interested in culture or promoting a political ideology and message which supports inclusion and tolerance for difference," he said.

"No nation's flag should ever be burnt, no legitimate culture should be abused and insulted. And crucially, the dead should not be mocked, and this must apply across all bonfires no matter which part of the community they are organised by."

Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin said: "The images were despicable and to see the names of innocent individuals who were murdered or had family members murdered by republican terrorists written on boards in such a hateful way and attached to a bonfire is obscene in the extreme," he said.

Police confirmed they received a report that offensive material was placed on the bonfire.

PSNI Inspector Moore said: "Police are treating this as a hate incident and, should evidence come to light that a crime has been committed and suspects identified, they will be brought before the courts."

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