Cookstown councillors criticise police over bonfire hate crime

The bonfire at Monrush.INMM2914-348
The bonfire at Monrush.INMM2914-348

Cookstown District Councillors have accused the police of not doing enough to tackle hate crime after election posters were burnt on an Eleventh night bonfire.

SDLP representative James McGarvey complained that the police had taken ‘no satisfactory action’ after posters belonging to his party colleague Tony Quinn and Sinn Fein Councillor John McNamee were destroyed on a pyre at Monrush.

Nationalist symbols including GAA flags and tricolours were also burnt at the site.

“The police called it a hate crime, and I believe the council should invite the Commander of F District to attend a meeting with councillors and explain why no action was taken”, said Councillor McGarvey at the October monthly meeting of the council chamber.

“This council should take a dim view of any hate crime.”

Councillor McNamee added his voice to the complaint.

“I was the most prominent representative on the fire, and I raised this with the police as soon as the election posters, which are private property, went missing.

“They told me they had tried to negotiate but couldn’t retrieve them from the bonfire. They conducted door to door enquiries but were unable to prosecute anyone.

“They have informed me that it is still a live and active investigation.”

Councillor Tony Quinn said that the issue needed to be brought to the full council.

“We have asked for the Commander of F District to come to the Good Relations Committee to address our concerns and get this dealt with properly and move society forward.”

The environmental impact of burning tyres at local bonfires was also discussed at the meeting, with Councillor McGarvey accusing the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA) of not doing enough to protect local people from the illegal practice.

However, it emerged that the NIEA was forced to send in a team with security staff to remove up to 500 tyres from the Monrush site that had not been used on the fire.

A council official informed the chamber that the move had caused much antagonism in groups of young people from the area, but that the NIEA staff had dealt with the issue very effectively.

During the testy exchange, Councillor McGarvey also accused the bonfire organisers of jeopardising the health of local people by burning tyres and producing carcinogenic fumes.

“Hundreds of pounds of ratepayers money was spent on tackling these bonfires and I don’t believe that is a fair and proper use of the funds”, he said.

However, Chairman Wilbert Buchanan said that things were burnt every year on bonfires.

“Bonfires have been set alight for hundreds of years on July 12”, he added.

The council decided to pursue the issue to a satisfactory conclusion for all involved.

The Commander of F District is to be invited to attend a meeting with councillors, and no junior rank was to be accepted in his place.