The burning of effigies or flags on July bonfires should be classed as a hate crime, Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd has told the Justice Minister Claire Sugden.
Mr O’Dowd said any incidents where Sinn Fein election posters end up on July bonfires will be reported to the PSNI.
“The burning of posters, flags and effigies is not harmless fun,” he said. “It is a hate crime and has no place in any culture.”
Speaking to the Justice Minister Mr O’Dowd said: “It is still unacceptable to see posters, effigies and images being burned on bonfires. We have seen the continuing burning of posters and effigies in my constituency in Banbridge and Portadown.
“Does the Minister not agree that the PSNI should treat it more seriously and treat it as a hate crime?”
The Minister classing the incidents as ‘unacceptable’ said: “The people responsible for that type of activity need to be held accountable for it. It is the police’s role to investigate that.
“If he has examples of specific ongoing incidents, I suggest he directs those comments to the PSNI, even through the Policing Board.”
Speaking afterwards Mr O’ Dowd warned: “Any incidents of election posters belonging to myself or Catherine Seeley which end up on bonfires this year will be reported to the PSNI as hate crimes.”
Local DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said it was a matter for the police whether a hate crime is committed.
“Upper Bann witnessed a hate crime with the attack on Muckery Orange Hall,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have seen a litany of such attacks where such sectarian intolerance has resulted in millions of pounds worth of damage to properties right across NI.
“Bonfires have always been a traditional part of the ‘Twelfth’ celebrations and this will continue. It is for the police to decide whether a crime has been committed and how they pursue any complaints.
“However, we should all be working to reduce intolerance and hatred in our community.
“We must all take steps to build better relations, to understand each other’s cultural traditions. Many, however will view the comments from John O’Dowd in the light of SF attempts across NI to ban bonfires entirely. I would like to see us work together to promote the single largest cultural festival in NI.”