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Union flags set alight on Halloween pyre in Strabane

By Leona O'Neill

A Unionist councillor has hit out at youths in Strabane who burnt Northern Ireland flags, Union flags and a flag commemorating those who died at the Somme on a Halloween bonfire on Tuesday night.

The bonfire, constructed on waste ground in the Ballycolman Estate, was to commemorate Samhain, the Halloween festival.

Tyrone councillor Derek Hussey branded Tuesday's display "sectarian and disgusting" and said it held no link to "traditional festive bonfires" which mark the season.

"One can only express extreme disgust that this has occurred," he said.

"I fail to see any relationship between what is meant to be a Halloween bonfire and the politicisation of the event by idiots.

"It could be regarded as having a sinister element utilising the 'festive' occasion of a Halloween bonfire for other purposes.

"Whilst some community and elected representatives may have managed to remove tyres and the like from the bonfire, there is still an extremely toxic effect coming from the same said bonfire.

"Burning flags is a hate crime. It is an obvious attempt to intimidate those like myself who are from the unionist persuasion. I cannot understand the mindset of those who would include a Somme flag on the bonfire.

"Given with all the educational programmes that have taken place I would have thought that the vast majority of folk would realise that the Somme had soldiers from throughout the island of Ireland and of all religious persuasions and none engaged in defending freedom on the western front."

Independent Strabane councillor Paul Gallagher said that he had engaged with the bonfire builders in the run-up to Halloween, removed 60 tyres and impressed upon them the need to remove the flags, but that negotiations broke down.

"We tried engagement with the young people," he said.

"We pointed out the fact that flags were an issue, that it was a hate crime, but they said back to us that the 'other side' do it.

"There needs to be some sort of procedure that if you are talking about getting rid of them in Strabane you'd need to get rid of them in other areas, on all bonfires.

"That means that young people in Strabane, or from Artigarvan or from elsewhere, can work together to reduce these sights together."

The latest row flared after a summer of tensions surrounding loyalist and republican bonfires in Belfast and Londonderry.

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