Action against hate bonfires would ‘increase disorder’ - PSNI
Action against hate bonfires would ‘increase disorder’ - PSNI


The PSNI police has washed its hands over a series of hate crimes and other offences at this year’s loyalist ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires, calling for “consultation and dialogue” instead of bringing charges against loyalists.

More than 300 bonfires were lit on Monday night ahead of the Twelfth of July, the annual Protestant celebration of a historic battle victory over Catholics.

There was once again a controversy over the display of racist, paramilitary and sectarian slogans, the burning of election posters of nationalist politicians and the burning of Irish tricolours and other flags.

In the most serious incident, a row of terraced houses in the Shankill area of west Belfast were gutted after a nearby bonfire spread onto the roofs.

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, whose posters were among those burned on a bonfire in Portadown which had been billed as a “children’s fun day”, wrote: “What message does it send out to young people that it is acceptable to burn images of elected representatives?” The Upper Bann Assembly member reported the incident to the PSNI as both theft of election posters and a hate crime.

Michaela Boyle, a Sinn Fein Assembly member of West Tyrone, said she felt “sadness” at seeing her election posters on a bonfire in Artigarvan, near Strabane. She said political representative from all parties needed to “speak out against all forms of hate crime, no matter how and where it raises its head”.

Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said “intervention” on bonfires was now overdue. He tweeted: “Respecting PSNI independence and judgement on how to deal with these hate crimes, past time when intervention required.”

But the Assistant PSNI Chief Stephen Martin dismissed these concerns. “The best way to improve the situation is through consultation; through dialogue and through partnership,” he said.

He said burning of Sinn Fein councillors on election posters amounted merely to “theft of paper” and admitted that the PSNI would not take on the paramilitaries involved.

“Whilst putting an election poster on a bonfire might be very distressful to the person whose image is on it and the political party involved might hold very strong feelings about it - the offence in reality is likely to be the theft of a piece of paper,” he said.

“In considering enforcement action, I have to think about.. the risk that police intervening would create increased tension and risk of disorder.”

Unionist politicians were equally dismissive. The DUP’s Edwin Poots even took a selfie at bonfire in Ballymacash that had been bedecked in tricolours which were burned. He said he “really couldn’t care less” about criticism.

And the new DUP ‘communities minister’ Paul Givan posed for photos as he set stacks of pallets alight in County Tyrone, and refused to comment afterwards. John O’Dowd branded the picture by Mr Poots “completely inappropriate”, and also said Mr Givan should be “setting an example as a minister”.

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