Northern Ireland

Belfast MP lodges complaint over Bobby Storey image as police investigate possible hate crime

A slogan about late republican Bobby Storey which has prompted an investigation by the PSNI. Picture from Q Radio
A slogan about late republican Bobby Storey which has prompted an investigation by the PSNI. Picture from Q Radio A slogan about late republican Bobby Storey which has prompted an investigation by the PSNI. Picture from Q Radio

WEST Belfast MP Paul Maskey has said he has lodged a complaint with police following the placing of images of senior republican Bobby Storey on a number of loyalist bonfires to mark Eleventh Night celebrations.

Police confirmed they were investigating reports of a hate crime after a poster of Mr Storey was circulated on social media.

It showed his photograph and an image of his funeral cortege alongside the caption: "Bobby Storey raised in west Belfast, burnt in loyalist east Belfast."

A bonfire in the Sandy Row area of south Belfast had a banner saying: "Bobby Storey - Burn in Hell."

Mr Storey, a former IRA prisoner and chairman of Sinn Féin, died last month aged 64. His funeral and cremation remain the source of political controversy amidst complaints that social distancing was not properly adhered to at the funeral and that other families were turned away from Roselawn Cemetery on the same afternoon.

West Belfast Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said he has filed a complaint with the PSNI about the image.

"This banner is one of a series of blatant and unacceptable displays of sectarian hatred on bonfires yet again this year," he said.

"It is absolutely disgraceful that the Storey family who are grieving the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and brother, are having their hurt compounded by sectarian thugs.

"Given the crude nature of this poster, I will not be uploading the image and I encourage others to also not share the image."

The images were condemned by several unionist representatives.

Deputy first minister, Michelle O'Neill said: "Political unionism must do more to challenge and confront the destructive and toxic issue of anti-social bonfires. These fires are not only detrimental to the environment, but also to community relations. Sectarianism has absolutely no place in our society and must be rooted out"

Ulster Unionist MLA and former British soldier Doug Beattie said: "I'll be clear - I think this is wrong and only targets the grieving family.

"There are issues to explore in respect to the funeral but this is not the way to do it."

Images on social media showed other banners with "KAT - Kill All Taigs" and an anti-Black Lives Matter slogan placed on a bonfire at Whitehill in Bangor.

First Minister Arlene Foster condemned those responsible.

"They really need to take a look at themselves and ask themselves what sort of a Northern Ireland do they want to live in, do they want to live in a Northern Ireland were everyone is entitled to proudly celebrate their culture and identity or do they want to live in a split Northern Ireland?

"I know certainly the one in which I want to live in, it's one where we can all proudly celebrate but do so in a way that is not offensive and certainly not sectarian," she told the BBC.

PSNI Chief Inspector Peter Brannigan said: "Police received a report shortly before 9:50pm on Friday night about an image on social media.

"The matter was reported as a hate crime. Enquiries are continuing."

Bonfires went ahead in a number of areas across Northern Ireland, with a rise in the number organised following the recent relaxation in coronavirus restrictions and the fall-out from Mr Storey's funeral.

Whilst many bonfires exceeded the official limit of 30 people for an outdoor gathering, attendances were much lower than normal as many people heeded advice to stay away.

Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Orange Order's grand secretary, said: "I would prefer not to see any bonfires, I've said that all along. If there's more than 30 people there, then head home."

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said it attended 24 bonfire related incidents between 6pm on Saturday and 1am on Sunday, a fall of almost a third compared to last year. There were no attacks on personnel or appliances reported.

At Pitt Park on the lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast, fire crews intervened to extinguish part of the blaze to protect nearby homes.

The biggest Eleventh Night bonfire is believed to have been in the Ballycraigy Estate in Antrim town, which organisers claimed was 190 pallets high.