Unionists block sanctions over racist and sectarian displays on bonfires

An effigy of Gerry Adams hanging on a huge Eleventh Night bonfire in Ballycraigy in Antrim in 2014
Brendan Hughes

UNIONISTS are facing criticism for blocking council proposals to withdraw funding over loyalist bonfires that use racist and sectarian displays.

The move follows months of controversy over ratepayers' cash awarded to groups organising Eleventh Night bonfires.

The Irish News last year that revealed thousands of pounds were given to an Antrim group whose bonfire was at the centre of a hate crime investigation.

The notorious Ballycraigy estate bonfire made global headlines in 2014 for its sectarian displays including an effigy of a hanged Gerry Adams.

A 19-year-old man was convicted in January over a racist display at the pyre in a landmark prosecution.

In the past four years more than £110,000 has been given to Antrim-area groups organising Eleventh Night bonfires to fund related family events.

For months Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors have been holding discussions to devise a new funding scheme for 2016.

Councillors voted on two options at a meeting of the unionist-majority council on Monday night.

One option proposed that funding could be withheld for the "burning of any flag, emblem, posters, effigies or any other symbol that may cause offence".

However, the alternative proposal only imposes funding sanctions for environmental issues such as the burning of tyres.

The second proposal was passed following support from DUP and UUP councillors.

Alliance councillor Billy Webb yesterday hit out at the decision, saying there was "absolutely no logic to it".

Expressing his disappointment, he said that if councillors believed offensive materials should not be on bonfires "then we should put it in a protocol".

Ahead of the meeting unionists had raised concerns that it would be difficult for the council to enforce penalties for offensive bonfire displays.

Mark Cosgrove, the UUP's group leader, had said he believes "any issues of sectarianism or racism involved in any public event is the responsibility of the police".

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