David Young, PA
Police in Northern Ireland are investigating after images emerged of effigies of Sinn Féin and Alliance leaders hanging from a loyalist bonfire in Co Antrim.
Effigies of Sinn Féin president and vice president Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long were pictured on the Eleventh Night bonfire in Carrickfergus.
Ms Long said the pictures, which she said were of the Glenfield bonfire in Carrick, made her feel physically sick.
“I’m not sharing the images due to risk of distressing families who have lost loved ones by suicide,” she wrote on Twitter.
“And because they are utterly sick.
“I will, however, be sharing them and the pictures of the bonfire builders standing proudly in front of their creation with the police.
“These were not last minute additions. There are photos of a children’s ‘fun day’ taking place at this fire while our effigies were hanging on it. Some local businesses even sponsored it.
“What kind of parent would see that and think it’s acceptable for their child to see?
“I felt physically sick at those photos – not just at the effigies but at the festering hatred and sectarianism they represent; hatred that not only persists in our community but is being passed on to the next generation as normal. This has to stop. Our children deserve better.”
🧵So, having become accustomed to seeing my posters burned on bonfires, I honestly thought nothing could shock me anymore. However, late last night I received photos of effigies of me, @moneillsf and @MaryLouMcDonald hanged on the bonfire at Glenfield in Carrickfergus. >
— Naomi Long MLA (@naomi_long) July 13, 2022
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly condemned what he branded a hate crime.
“The burning of flags, posters and effigies which included first minister-elect Michelle O’Neill, party leader Mary Lou McDonald and other political figures on bonfires is wrong, deeply offensive and is a hate crime,” he said.
“Sinn Féin has reported a number of hate crimes to the PSNI related to bonfires.
“There is an onus on unionist political and community leaders to stand up against these displays of sectarian hatred and make it clear that there is no place for them in this society.
“The silence from some senior unionist leaders to date has been deafening.”
Mr Kelly said the incident highlighted the need for safeguarding regulations around bonfires.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the displays.
“Whilst the overwhelming number of Twelfth celebrations were hugely successful, some events require further work and other displays must be outrightly condemned as wrong,” he said.
“Throughout my lifetime I have had the privilege to celebrate and educate others about my identity all over the world.
“At no point has burning posters, flags or pictures of serving politicians featured as part of that. Nor has slogans or displays that advocate sectarian violence against anyone in this society regardless of their political position or religious views.
“I was also horrified to learn of Twelfth decorations being destroyed in Co Tyrone and other hate crimes against the loyal orders having to be investigated across the province.
“We have a rich Ulster-British cultural identity. I want people to focus on celebrating and displaying our culture rather than denigrating others.
“When republican terrorists waged a campaign of hate against people of my faith, I condemned and stood against it. When anyone tries to incite hate, I will call it out and stand foursquare against it.
“All politicians in Northern Ireland must be consistent in their condemnation of hate.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie condemned the effigies as “utterly vile”.
“Hanging effigies on bonfires does not represent the union and unionist culture I believe in,” he tweeted.
“Staying silent cannot be an option.”
A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “The police service is aware of images which have emerged showing effigies placed on a bonfire in Carrickfergus and are investigating.”
Monday night saw crowds gather across Northern Ireland to watch the bonfires being set alight in loyalist areas to start Twelfth of July commemorations.
Before the fires were lit, the PSNI said they were investigating multiple reports of flags, effigies and election posters on bonfires.