Belfast Telegraph

War of words as Strabane Christmas tree is 'desecrated' by republican

By Leona O'Neill

A Co Tyrone town's Christmas tree has been "desecrated" after the names of republican prisoners were hung on it alongside the fairylights and decorations, a unionist councillor has said.

Ulster Unionist Derek Hussey has raised concerns over Strabane's tree, located in Abercorn Square, with Derry City and Strabane District Council.

He said council workers have approached management over fears of intimidation if they had to remove the tags.

"The name tags of republican prisoners have been placed on the corporate council Christmas tree in Strabane," he said.

"I fail to see why folk would do this, placing what is essentially a political item on the Christmas tree, which is provided for all people in the town. It does cause concern and discord.

"It is totally inappropriate and is a desecration of a Christmas item. With regards to the unionist community, it puts a doubt in people's mind about going into Strabane.

"Thankfully in the past council have been able to quite quickly have council workers go ahead and remove them.

"This year, however, I am to understand that concerns have been expressed to management as to a fear of intimidation if our council workers were to involve themselves in the removal of the tags.

"Naturally one can understand the apprehension around that. On the back of that, management have assured me that they would engage contract workers to come and remove the labels from the tree.

"The people who put these tags on have to respect that the tree is for all people, not just to be a billboard for some twisted republican message."

Strabane independent councillor Paul Gallagher said it was a long-held tradition for republicans to place the names of their jailed loved ones on the tree.

"The names of republican prisoners have gone up on the Christmas tree for as far back as I can remember," he added.

"It's been a tradition that you remember prisoners who are incarcerated at this special time, when they are away from their families.

"As long as there are political prisoners in Irish prisons then their names will be on the tree in Strabane."

In a statement, the Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association vowed that the names of the prisoners would not be removed.

"For decades, young and old would take to the streets to support and highlight the conditions men and women faced in jails across Ireland and Britain. Today is no different and that is a fact Derek Hussey must face," it said.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for Derry and Strabane District Council said: "We are not aware of any specific threat against staff; however council is aware of staff who have expressed concerns in relation to their involvement in what are perceived by some as sensitive matters.

"The council will continue to monitor the situation."

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