There has been cross-community condemnation after images of the late Martin McGuinness were burned on a Derry bonfire.
A board placed on the Tullyally bonfire was used to promote the Chieftain's Walk, a charity event in memory of the former Deputy First Minister, which raised funds for the Foyle Hospice and the Intensive Care Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Another image appeared to be a cut-out of Mr McGuinness’s face from the same poster.
Martin McGuinness’s son, Fiachra, had a simple message for those who placed his father’s image on the pyre: “Replace Fear, Hate and Anger with Love and you will be Free.”
Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI, Stephen Martin, also made his feelings clear via a social media post, saying: “Tonight’s bonfire in Tullyally is just as disgraceful as last night’s in Newry. Showing contempt for the deceased is despicable & very hurtful to their families.
“Whether it is Loyalist or Republican is irrelevant. These shameful displays must be unequivocally condemned by all.”
The nationalist anti-internment bonfire he mentioned in Newry had signs referencing 18 soldiers who died in an IRA bomb attack at Narrow Water, Warrenpoint, in August 1979.
Others bore the names of murdered policemen and prison officers. And an offensive message aimed at the late Willie Frazer was also included.
The Newry bonfire was denounced as “deplorable sectarian bigotry” and “not Republican” by Sinn Féin Vice President, Michelle O’Neill. Arlene Foster also labelled it a “really sick tower of hate” built by people with “bitterness and hatred in their hearts”.
Following Friday’s bonfire in Derry, Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan called on the leaders of political unionism to condemn the “hatemongers” who put the image of Martin McGuinness on the bonfire.
“This display is particularly sickening given that it’s a poster advertising a charity walk.
“This is the action of hatemongers intent on spreading bigotry and perpetuating sectarian divisions in our society.
“This behaviour stands in stark contrast to the work that Martin McGuinness did to build reconciliation and reach out the hand of friendship to all communities.
“It is also grossly insulting to the McGuinness family who still mourn the loss of their loved one.
“I am calling on political unionism to show leadership by condemning this display of hate and demanding an end to such sickening and sectarian hate crimes.”
In a statement to the Derry News, DUP MLA for the Foyle area Gary Middleton said
cultural traditions should be celebrated in a way that is “respectful to the cause” and also to “our neighbouring communities”.
“Over the past few weeks hundreds of events have taken place to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne and the Relief of Londonderry. The overwhelming majority of these events have been a huge success and were enjoyed by thousands of people from across Northern Ireland and beyond.
“Culture is not the burning of religious symbols, flags or posters. All communities should work to express culture in a dignified way,” he added.
Meanwhile, his party leader, Mrs Foster, posted on Twitter: “Anyone burning flags or posters on bonfires needs to wise up.
“Bonfires/beacons were lit to welcome King William III to our shores. The modern tradition of lighting a bonfire was to commemorate this.
“Bonfires should be about welcoming rather than communicating hate.”
At the weekend, Sinn Féin welcomed the contributions of Mrs Foster and Mr Middleton, with Karen Mullan MLA saying: “Sinn Féin condemn the burning of all flags, emblems, effigies and posters on bonfires. Such actions are hate crimes and must be eradicated.
“It’s welcome that unionist politicians have finally condemned the burning of all posters - it’s now time to show leadership to bring these displays of hate to an end.”
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