Burning posters and flags are hate crimes, not culture – McGuigan
Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has condemned the burning of election posters and the Irish national flag at a bonfire in Ballymena.
A number of election posters were placed on a local bonfire at Wakehurst playing fields in the town ahead of the burning on Monday night, 11 July.
Mr McGuigan was one of those whose election poster was placed on the bonfire. He commented on the incident saying:
“None of this behaviour represents legitimate expressions of culture. I reported this bonfire to the PSNI well in advance of it being lit. These are sectarian hate crimes and need to be investigated as such.
“I now expect the PSNI to carry out a full and robust investigation into their bonfire with a view to making arrests and mounting successful prosecutions for these hate crimes and other criminal offences.
“Our society needs to adopt a zero tolerance against such displays of sectarian hate and bigotry. All bonfires should be subject to proper legal regulation and enforcement; based upon existing environmental legislation; permission and approval; respect for public and private property; public health considerations; and community safety.
“If bonfires are to be used as a form of legal, legitimate, cultural celebration, they must be respectful and compliant with good relations policy.
"The organisers and supporters of such bonfires cannot have it both ways. It's either culture or a hate crime; it can’t be both.”
Police confirmed on Monday night that it was investigating. A PSNI spokesperson commented:
“The Police Service has received a number of complaints relating to flags, effigies, election posters and other emblems being placed on bonfires.
“We are gathering evidence in respect of these complaints and will review to establish whether offences have been committed.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said it attended 35 bonfire related calls - a decrease from last year.
A spokesperson for NIFRS said:
“Between 6pm 11 July and 2am 12 July 2022, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) received a total of 203 emergency 999 calls which resulted in our Firefighters responding to 98 operational incidents.
“During this period we attended 35 bonfire related incidents. This represents a 12.5% decrease in bonfire incidents during the same timeframe in 2021.
“Peak activity was between 11pm and 1am.
“NIFRS maintained normal emergency response throughout the evening, attending a range of operational incidents including special service calls, a road traffic collision and other emergencies.”