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Martin McGuinness effigy on bonfire pile in Belfast ahead of 12 July. PA Wire/PA Images

McDonald: 'Burning of McGuinness effigy on loyalist bonfire was a hate crime'

The Sinn Féin deputy leader said the burning of political posters must end.

SINN FÉIN’S MARY Lou McDonald said the burning of an effigy of Martin McGuinness on a loyalist bonfire was a hate crime.

Ahead of the 12 July celebrations among the Protestant community across Northern Ireland, one bonfire prepared in east Belfast was spotted bearing a coffin with an effigy of McGuinness. Sinn Féin posters were also placed on the bonfire.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties in Donegal, McDonald said such acts cannot be ignored and called out the unionist silence on the issue.

“Unionist leaders were silent. We need to call out these actions for what they are. This isn’t colourful pageantry. This is the ugly face of sectarianism. These were hate crimes. And it sucks the hope for future generations,” said McDonald.

However, her comments were not welcomed by DUP MLA Edwin Poots, who was also in attendance at last night’s debate.

Poots said he had to correct McDonald’s statement, clarifying that both the local DUP representative in east Belfast and the DUP leader Arlene Foster spoke out against the burning of such images on bonfires.

McDonald said she wanted to be clear that the burning of posters of any party – be it the SDLP, the DUP or the Alliance – “wouldn’t be acceptable”.

“It is outrageous and it needs to stop,” she said.

Highlighting another example, McDonald said there were advertisements in the north for the public hanging of a mocked-up version of one Sinn Féin politician.

“In a civilised society that is unacceptable, that represents hate crime and I am calling it for what it is,” she said.

If the boot was on the other foot and effigies of unionist people were being burned, she would be making the same comments, she said.

McDonald said she wants this to be the last July in which posters are burnt on loyalist bonfires.

The DUP member then asked if McDonald would like to take the opportunity to condemn the La Mon House Hotel bombing in the Castlereagh Hills in 1978, in which 12 people died.

McDonald said she condemned the loss of life on all sides of the conflict.

IMG_8892 Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal.

Rise in sectarianism

Poots said he was also concerned about the rise in sectarianism in the north, stating that it is “more rife now than it has been for decades”.

“The anger out there is palpable,” he added, pointing out that many involved in sectarianism were born after the Good Friday Agreement.

The debate on the relationship between the north and the south was tense at times, particularly when the discussion moved on to the Irish language.

The Government Chief Whip, Joe McHugh, said the Irish language should “transcend politics”.

McHugh, who is also the Minister of State at the Department of Culture with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands, said it is “disappointing” the Irish language is being used as a political football in the Northern Executive negotiations.

McHugh and his lack of cúpla focal hit the headlines in 2014 when he was appointed as the junior minister at the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The minister went on to become fluent in the language and even taught an Irish lesson on the BBC.

The Irish Language Act 

One of the main sticking points preventing the Northern Executive being established is the proposed Irish Language Act.

As outlined here, the DUP had begun to roll back on certain funding commitments to Irish language projects under the last Assembly, and this was heavily fought by Sinn Féin.

As our FactCheck on the matter delved into, there are 104,943 people in Northern Ireland (or 6% of the population) who can speak Irish.

The legislation proposes protection of Irish as a minority language, and to give it a similar standing that the Welsh language has in Wales.

It proposes giving the Irish language an official status, enable public bodies to provide a baseline level of interactions in Irish, and legislating for Irish place names on road signs.

Poots said the DUP believes Irish should not be imposed on those in the north who do not want to use the language, stating that his party does not want an Irish language commissioner, or bilingual road signs to be introduced in the north.

McHugh said it’s the government’s position that an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland should be introduced.

So I want to say to Edwin here this evening. The Irish language does not belong to any political party, north or south. It belongs to all those who wish to engage with it. The Presbyterian community in particular helped to save the language over many years.
The language is not a threat. It is not a political weapon and it should not be used as one. It is the same for Ulster-Scots. The Ulster-Scots Agency has an office in this constituency in Raphoe to further promote that part of our shared heritage particularly here in Ulster.

He said he wanted to reassure people the Irish language is not something to be feared.

“I’d be happy as minister for the Irish language in this jurisdiction to meet and talk with any unionists who have any concerns about the Irish language and reassure them that people like me who have learned to love the language have no intention of doing anything other than speak it and share it with those who want to share in it,” he said.

An audience member then told the panel that politicians needed to get on with the job of re-establishing the institutions in the north.

“You are absolutely right. We have to cop on and get on with it,” admitted McDonald.

Read: ‘The optics are bad’: Criticism levelled at Garda Commissioner for taking five-week holiday>

Read: Ireland ‘shouldn’t go down US route of splitting security and policing’>

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