‘Hate issues must be addressed’

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A local councillor has called for banners, which had been placed on loyalist bonfires, accusing Mid Ulster Council of being run by the IRA army council, to be treated as ‘hate incidents’.

However, unionists have warned against a ‘heavy handed’ approach.

Councillor Denise Mullen (SDLP), the chair of the council’s Policing and Community Safety Partnership, welcomed a decision by police to treat the placing of a banner on a bonfire at Portadown criticising the council as a ‘hate incident.’

Banners, flags and posters were placed on Eleventh night bonfires in towns and villages across Mid Ulster by loyalists angered by the council’s controversial bonfire licensing scheme.

Flags were also erected on light posts in many unionist parts of the district opposing the council proposal.

Following an attack on a bonfire at Leckagh housing estate in Magherafelt, banners and posters were reportedly distributed around the Province to allow other loyalists to “show solidarity” with the British community in Mid Ulster.

Councillor Mullen, whose father Denis was shot dead by the UVF near Moy in 1975, said she has raised the issue with police in Mid Ulster.

She stressed that if the community was to move forward, such matters needed to be addressed by the authorities.

But DUP group leader Councillor Paul McLean said there is a danger that heavy handed behaviour could escalate the situation.

He pointed out that over the summer tensions in the unionist community, especially in Mid Ulster, had been stirred up by the council’s insistence on enforcing a bonfire policy.

“This was viewed as an attack on our British culture,” said Councillor McLean. “The unionist representatives on the council warned there was discontent and annoyance in their community about what was taking place.”

He said with the council expected to give the go-ahead to the bonfire scheme, now was the time for cool heads.

“There is absolutely no point in adding fuel to the fire at this stage when a lot of people in my community will not be happy with the introduction of a policy which attacks their culture,” he added.

The nationalist controlled council is expected to discuss the bonfire consultation at their monthly meeting next Thursday.

However, it is reported that two-thirds of respondents agreed that Mid Ulster Council should proceed with its plans to regulate bonfires. Just under 32 per cent of respondents were opposed to it.

The consultation was launched in June despite a legal challenge by the unionist parties.

At the time Sinn Féin group leader Ronan McGinley stressed it was important to get a wide range of responses so the council can make the best decision possible.

“The Council needs to meet its statutory responsibility, and its important for people to be able to celebrate their culture,” he said.

“We want to see safe bonfire events that can be enjoyed by all citizens of the Mid Ulster area.

“Therefore, the views and opinions of all those concerned are needed so that the Council can continue to provide for what local people want. We need to be able to do this in a safe, responsible and acceptable manner.”