‘Poppy burners are hate criminals’

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DUP MLA Gary Middleton says the incineration of a poppy wreath on a bonfire in Londonderry on Saturday represented “a particular low” and has called for prosecutions in line with hate crime legislation.

Bonfires erected in some nationalist areas of the city were adorned with Union Flags and, in Creggan, with a poppy wreath, which Mr Middleton says was taken from the Diamond War Memorial.

Meanwhile, a huge bonfire adjacent to where Walker’s pillar once stood before it was blown up by the IRA, was decorated with flags of the Paratroop Regiment.

An effigy of a soldier was also burned in the city at the weekend.

Mr Middleton said: “There is a tradition of bonfires in Londonderry on August 15 within the nationalist community, just as there is within the unionist and loyalist community on July 11.

“On a bonfire within the Creggan area there was a poppy wreath burned, and also within the city an effigy of a soldier was placed on one of the bonfires.

“No one would pretend there are not problems with bonfires on both sides of the community, but to remove a poppy wreath from the War Memorial and then burn it represents a particular low.

“As elected representatives we have a responsibility to work with those who build bonfires to highlight the need to demonstrate respect within our community. The poppy of course is not a symbol belonging to the unionist community, but representing those from all backgrounds who served and it is this which has caused particular distress.

“It is right that this incident is highlighted and discussed publicly. There has been a hate crime prosecution in relation to a loyalist bonfire recently and the police must investigate this particular incident with a view to ensuring those responsible are brought before the courts.”