British war crimes seen at heart of poppy issue


Loyalists have picketed a store in Belfast in protest at the failure to sell poppies, as the controversy over the marking of the British Army’s Remembrance Day surfaced for another year.

The PSNI said they maintained a presence at the protest at the Lidl outlet on the Shore Roan this week when loyalists protested that the shop refused to allow poppy sellers.

The issue of ‘poppy fascism’, in which those not wearing the poppy and those outlets not selling it are hounded by right-wing elements is an annual controversy which shows no sign of going away.

DUP Deputy Mayor of Belfast Guy Spence, was among unionists to voice their fury at the Lidl store’s failure to facilitate poppy sales, which he described as “disgusting”. Loyalist campaigner Willie Frazer, who was amongst the protesters, said next the airport”, a reference to his campaign against Irish-themed merchandise at Belfast International Airport.

A spokeswoman for the retail chain said the store had agreed to support a cancer charity and it was “not feasible” to back every cause. In 2010, loyalists picketed the nearby Asda outlet for four days after an employee was sacked for sectarian intimidation.

The poppy symbol is offensive to many of those bereaved and injured by the British armed forces, but the views and experiences of those families have been disregarded, according to Relatives for Justice. The group said BBC presenters had been particularly coerced into wearing the symbol of the British military.

“These families are now calling on the publicly funded broadcaster in the north to exercise leadership reflecting the views and sensitivities of the entire community by creating a neutral service where no contentious symbols are worn,” they said.

“RFJ have urged local presenters to also consider the feelings of these families too when making a decision whether or not to wear a poppy.”

Tom McWilliams, brother of Paul, killed by the British army in 1977, said thousands of those bereaved and injured by state violence dread the November period when the poppy is “a constant and a reminder when they switch on their television sets that their loss, their trauma, and their hurt is totally disregarded and disrespected”.

RFJ Chairperson Clara Reilly said a BBC insider had revealed that if a presenter chooses not to wear a poppy, they are asked to take annual leave.

And in a now annual row, Derry-born footballer James McClean has again been forced to explain why he does not wear the poppy. He pointed out it serves as a memorial “for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in”.

The football star, from Derry, has refused to wear the tribute for several years as a gesture of respect to the 13 civilians who died during Bloody Sunday in 1972.

“If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem.” he said.

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