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Criticism after DUP minister lights Eleventh Night bonfire

DUP communities minister Paul Givan lights an Eleventh Night bonfire
Brendan Hughes

A DUP minister has faced criticism for lighting a bonfire ahead of the Twelfth.

Communities minister Paul Givan posed for photos as he set stacks of pallets alight to mark the Eleventh Night with Annahoe Orange District in south Tyrone.

Mr Givan, who the previous day had reinstated a £200,000 grants scheme for marching bands suspended by Sinn Fein's Carál Ní Chuilín last year, said: "Enjoyed a wonderful Eleventh Night at Roughan Orange Hall opening a new £320k 4G pitch and celebrating the traditional lighting of the bonfire.

"My late grandfather Herbie was a member of Annahoe LOL 336 and I was delighted to wear his collarette alongside the Orange grandmaster Edward Stevenson, Annahoe District master Trevor Lockhart and First Minister Arlene Foster.

"It was a real pleasure to hear so many people taking about their memories of the Givan clan."

However, the picture attracted criticism online.

One Twitter user wrote: "Doesn't anyone care for the environment any more?"

Another said: "I just don't get it. We are told bonfires ruin the environment but, hey feck, that it's our culture."

Meanwhile, Mr Givan's DUP colleague Edwin Poots posted selfies beside a blazing bonfire that had earlier been bedecked in tricolours.

The Lagan Valley MLA and former health minister uploaded pictures to Facebook at the Ballymacash bonfire in Lisburn.

Sharing a selfie with the pyre behind him, he wrote: "Hedges cut, lawn cut, flag up and Ballymacash bonfire, it's looking a lot like the Twelfth."

Photos posted earlier in the day by other internet users showed how the pyre had been bedecked in flags including tricolours.

The DUP did not respond to requests for a comment when asked about the images.

They emerged as an Ulster Unionist MP apologised for posting a photo on Twitter of him standing in front of a bonfire bearing a tricolour.

Danny Kinahan, who was shown holding a cheque for charity, accepted it had been an error in judgement but said the flag was removed before the bonfire was lit.

"What I wanted to get across was here was a family, rural bonfire scene and they'd raised £600 for meningitis," the South Antrim MP told the BBC.

"I should have had the flag taken down before the photograph, but it's really to get the point across – let's recognise each other's cultures, let's look after them, be tolerant and let's get on and enjoy our lives."

Concerns were also raised about numerous other bonfires burning flags and election posters, with some being reported to police as hate crimes.

Alliance and SDLP election posters and tricolours were placed on a pyre in Killyleagh, Co Down, while Sinn Féin and SDLP posters were on a bonfire stacked with tyres in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

A sign was also placed on a north Belfast bonfire about Ardoyne republican Dee Fennell, a vocal critic of parades in the area.

The sign, thought to have been placed on a pyre in the Oldpark area, carried the message: "Our culture will never die, unlike Dee Fennell".

A tricolour and Palestinian flag were also placed on the bonfire.

Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay urged the Orange Order and unionist politicians to tackle the burning of flags and election posters.

"We all have a collective responsibility to stamp out hatred and sectarianism in our society," he said.

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon also said while Mr Givan "clearly enjoyed lighting a bonfire on Monday night", the annual pyres were not an enjoyable experience for those "who watched as their national flag, their election posters or their effigies were burned in the name of 'culture'".

"The minister with his executive colleagues must bring forward guidance for local authorities and other agencies on enforcement against bonfires with such nakedly sectarian displays and those which damage our environment through the toxic burning of tyres."

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