Burning effigies or flags on July bonfires in Uppper Bann or elsewhere will be regarded as a ‘hate crime’, Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd has told the Justice Minister.
Mr O’Dowd said it is ‘still unacceptable to see posters, effigies and images being burned on bonfires’.
The Sinn Fein MLA raised the matter with the Justice Minister Claire Sugden on the floor of the Assembly this week.
It follows posters of Sinn Fein MLA Catherine Seeley being erected on bonfires last year.
Mr O’Dowd asked the Minister of Justice “after welcoming her to her post and wishing her well, whether she agrees, as we approach the marching season and the bonfire season, albeit acknowledging that a lot of work has been carried out in the PUL community to reduce tensions, particularly with bonfires, that it is still unacceptable to see posters, effigies and images being burned on bonfires .
Mr O’ Dowd said: “A number of sites have become notorious, such as the Ballycraigy Road and the Dublin Road in Antrim.
“We have seen the continuing burning of posters and effigies in my constituency in Banbridge and Portadown.
“Does the Minister not agree that the PSNI should treat it more seriously and treat it as a hate crime?”
In response the Minister said: “Of course it is unacceptable; all incidents of hate crime are unacceptable, whether it be sectarianism or racism.
“The people responsible for that type of activity need to be held accountable for it. It is the police’s role to investigate that. All incidents of hate crime are unacceptable.
“If he has examples of specific ongoing incidents, I suggest that he directs those comments to the PSNI, even through the Policing Board.
“Again, it is an operational matter, which I find it difficult to comment on.
“Indeed, it would not be appropriate for me to do so. To reiterate: incidents of hate crime are unacceptable. I appreciate where you are coming from, so, in trying to deal with this particular issue, I would direct the Member to the PSNI.”
Speaking outside the Assembly Mr O’ Dowd said: “Any incidents of election posters belonging to myself or Catherine Seeley which end up on Bonfires this year will be reported to the PSNI as hate crimes. The burning of posters, flags and effigies is not harmless fun it is a hate crime and has no place in any culture.”