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A pyre with a boat on top, with a picture of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and a banner that reads "Good Friday Agreement ? That ship has sailed", before it is set alight in Moygashel, Co Tyrone. Alamy Stock Photo
hate crime

PSNI investigating placement of a picture of the Taoiseach on loyalist bonfire as a ‘hate crime’

‘What happened in burning the flag of our neighbouring state and burning the poster of Leo Varadkar was wrong’, said the DUP leader today.

POLICE IN THE North are investigating the placing of an Irish flag and a picture of the Taoiseach on a loyalist bonfire as a “hate crime”.

PSNI Chief Inspector John Keers said police received a report on Saturday evening “in relation to material placed on a bonfire in the Main Road area of Moygashel” in Co Tyrone.

“Police are treating this as a hate crime,” Keers added.

The towering pyre, themed as an anti-Northern Ireland Protocol bonfire, attracted attention online after a boat was placed on the top of it.

By Saturday evening, an Irish tricolour and a republican flag, as well as a picture of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, had been added on the boat.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson today said he believes the overwhelming majority of unionists oppose the placing of an Irish flag and a picture of the Taoiseach on the loyalist bonfire.

He said that the actions were wrong, regardless of opinions on the protocol.

“I think that what happened in burning the flag of our neighbouring state and burning the poster of Leo Varadkar was wrong,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“It is disrespectful. If people want to earn respect and have respect for their own identity and culture then they have got to show respect for others and I don’t think that what happened and these things that were burned on the bonfire are right.

“I think that is the view of the overwhelming majority of unionists.”

Donaldson added: “I know there are differing views on the Northern Ireland Protocol and its impact on community relations and on the politics of Northern Ireland, I have spoken myself about that.

“I believe that the protocol undermines some of the principles at the heart of the Belfast agreement but I am working alongside my political colleagues to address and resolve those issues.

“We recognise at the end of the day that Northern Ireland prospers when there is political stability.

“I think the overwhelming majority of people want to see forward movement. We have got to resolve the issues which are at the heart of the current political situation.”

Asked if bonfires should ever have effigies or flags placed upon them, Donaldson said: “Personally, I don’t think they should. Perhaps some may in a historical context, but this is not a historical context.”

“To do things that I believe are disrespectful to others and are not set in a historical context, I think that is wrong.”

On the side of the boat on the bonfire, a banner reading “Good Friday Agreement? That ship has sailed” was attached, with a mock copy of the 1998 accord across which the words “null and void” were printed.

It was given the title No Irish Sea Border Bonfire, in reference to opposition in unionist and loyalist communities to post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Most of the bonfires to mark Northern Ireland’s traditional 12 July celebrations will be lit on 11 July.

The Twelfth marks the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, an act that secured a Protestant line of succession for the British crown.

There has been controversy around bonfires in previous years, with election posters and Irish flags hung from the stacks of wood, with some towering more than 100ft high.

The DUP leader also rejected suggestions that there was any prospect of violence following an annual protest staged by the Orange Order at Drumcree in Portadown, Co Armagh.

The Parades Commission refused permission for the order’s return route to proceed along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road, a ruling maintained since 1998.

Orange Order members yesterday held a short protest at the police lines barring them from the return route.

Donaldson said: “We will always work to avoid situations becoming violent, I don’t think there is any prospect of that happening in this situation.

“No-one is talking about violence in relation to Drumcree and the Orangemen yesterday had their church service, they did so respectfully, they did so peacefully, they are seeking to exercise what they believe is their democratic right to peaceful assembly.”

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