Northern Ireland

Portadown bonfire: UUP condemns burning of Sinn Féin posters

John O'Dowd and Catherine Seeley
Image caption Photographs appeared on social media at the weekend showing posters of Sinn Féin's Upper Bann MLAs John O'Dowd and Catherine Seeley being burned on a Portadown bonfire

The burning of Sinn Féin posters on a loyalist bonfire has been condemned by a unionist councillor who said it "undoes good work" in her community.

Julie Flaherty said she was "very, very disappointed" after photos emerged of election posters on a bonfire in Portadown, County Armagh, on Saturday.

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, whose poster was among those burned, said it was reported to police as a "hate crime".

Police are investigating complaints about a bonfire in the Corcrain estate.

'Children's fun day'

Photographs appeared on social media at the weekend, showing posters of Mr O'Dowd and his Sinn Fein colleague Catherine Seeley on the bonfire on Saturday night.

In a statement, Mr O'Dowd said: "The event as I understand was billed as a children's fun day.

"It is totally unacceptable that these stolen posters appeared on the bonfire, especially in the context of an event which was supposed to be a children's fun day, what message does the burning of images of elected representatives send out to children?"

He said the posters had been "stolen" during this year's Assembly election campaign and the theft formed part of the complaint to police.

"Election material, poster and billboards belonging to all political parties should be treated with respect," he added.

Ms Flaherty said she condemned the practice and added it was detracting from the efforts of those involved in cross-community work in Portadown.

'Frustration'

She said she had accompanied UUP MLA Doug Beattie on a tour of a number of bonfire sites in the town late last week, and spoke to several bonfire builders about the type of materials used.

She said at that time, they did not see any election posters, tyres or combustible materials that could cause harm or offence.

Image copyright Julie Flaherty
Image caption UUP representatives visited several bonfires like this one in the Corcrain and Redmanville estates on Thursday and said they saw no sign of election posters

The councillor also said she visited the family fun day in the Corcrain estate on Saturday afternoon and believed the posters were a "last minute" addition to the bonfire on Saturday night.

She expressed frustration that the "good work" of community representatives was being "undone by the strike of a match".

Supt David Moore, a PSNI commander in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, said: "We are investigating complaints about Sinn Féin election posters being placed on a bonfire in the local area.

"This is being treated as a hate incident.

"We take hate incidents very seriously and actively investigate all incidents reported to us."