DUP's Emma Little Pengelly clarifies 'free society' defence of bonfire effigies

DUP South Belfast MP Emma Little Pengelly was responding to social media users
Brendan Hughes

A DUP MP has sought to clarify Facebook comments in which she appeared to defend the burning of flags and effigies on loyalist bonfires as "public expressions" of opposition within a "free society".

Emma Little Pengelly then faced more criticism after attempting to defend her remarks as a "classic liberal approach" in a series of late-night Twitter posts.

But in another stream of tweets she tried to clarify any "ambiguity", saying that all bonfires "should be done in a respectful way".

The dispute arose after Ms Pengelly posted a picture of herself on Facebook at the Twelfth in Richhill with a message saying that "respect goes both ways".

The newly elected South Belfast MP said: "We have heard much in the last months from Sinn Féin about rights and respect.

"It is time our traditions, identity and cultural expression were fully respected by all – not trampled on and opposed at every turn! Respect goes both ways!"

In response Séamas de Faoite, a former SDLP election candidate, asked: "I agree Emma, respect goes both ways, so what about others affording myself and my party colleagues some respect by not burning us in effigy on bonfires across Northern Ireland last night?"

Ms Pengelly replied that in relation to "opposition and public expressions of it we should actually recognise and appreciate that right".

Her response read: "We live in a free society within the UK where opposition, offensiveness and flag burning is not outlawed.

"I do not like trolling, offensiveness and hate towards any person because of political, religious or any other status.

"We have laws to protect people when it crosses a line."

Ms Pengelly referred to "offensive behaviours" against DUP representatives over their policies and beliefs, including banners saying 'f*** the DUP' at the recent London Pride march.

"I strongly dislike and feel offended by it – but ultimately people here and across UK and ROI have the right to do it regardless of our like or disagreement with it," she said.

"When we look at so many places that outlaw opposition and public expressions of it we should actually recognise and appreciate that right. That's a right I would actually fight to protect.

"I hate no-one. That's the way I was brought up and absolutely core to my values. We must all work to ensure everyone is valued and all our traditions and identities are respected – that's what I work for."

Mr de Faoite later posted her remarks on Twitter, adding: "I asked my MP about people burning my and my SDLP colleagues' posters. Her response seems to be I should be glad they had free speech to do so?"

Ms Pengelly hit back, saying she is "respectful to all" and accused him of "just stirring".

But amid criticism from other Twitter users, she wrote: "Quite frankly frightening that this 'classic liberal' approach to dissent, protected for hundreds of years has this reaction."

One Twitter user described her remarks as "embarrassing", while another wrote: "Please stop, Emma."

In a statement posted yesterday morning Ms Pengelly said: "For anyone trying to read any ambiguity into anything let me be absolutely clear (and I have said this repeatedly) – All terrorism is wrong, that includes associated flags and emblems.

"Hate crime is wrong and there must be zero tolerance of it. All bonfires, and cultural expression, should be done in a respectful way.

"I have always stated that including publicly on many platforms. You can see that from my Twitter feed.

"I will work with everyone including all my political colleagues and the PSNI with the community to ensure that happens.

"I welcome the peaceful parades across Northern Ireland yesterday and that should be recognised by all. Respect goes both ways and must be core to our society."

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams described the burning of effigies and election posters and "evidence of a nakedly sectarian strand within Orangeism that must be confronted and challenged, principally by the leaderships of the Loyal Orders, political unionism and civic society."

He also dismissed claims of a "cultural war" against the Orange tradition, citing 500 parades across Northern Ireland on the Twelfth.

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