PSNI `gathering evidence' about flags, posters and effigies on bonfires
POLICE are "gathering evidence" in relation to complaints about effigies and posters placed on bonfires, which included an image of Pope Francis.
The image of the Holy Father was erected on a pyre on the Shore Road in north Belfast along with election posters belonging to Sinn Féin and the flag of Palestine.
At other sites, election posters belonging to the SDLP, Alliance Party and People Before Profit also appeared on structures as well as signs bearing the message 'KAT' - Kill All Taigs.
The PSNI said it had "received a number of complaints relating to flags, effigies, election posters and other emblems being placed on bonfires".
"We are gathering evidence in respect of these complaints and will review to establish whether offences have been committed," a spokesman said.
Sinn Féin councillor Gary McCleave, whose election posted appeared on a bonfire at Highfield in Belfast, tweeted to say: "Tonight I am having to answer questions from my children who came across this on social media why their Daddy is on a bonfire to be burnt.
"This is not culture, it is a hate crime.
"Those within political unionism need to show leadership and stand up against this sectarian hatred."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson also tweeted to say he was "saddened to see once again Alliance and other party election posters together with flags ranging from the EU to the Vatican and the Republic of Ireland on bonfires in East Antrim".
UUP leader Doug Beattie criticised the presence of posters and effigies on bonfires and said "the vast majority celebrating the Twelfth today will not view this as acceptable".
"I think it is utterly disgraceful - yet again we see the bigotry of a few undermining the man," he said.
DUP MLA David Brooks described the presence of sectarian messages - one which targeted Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill - and election posters on a bonfire in east Belfast as "pathetic scrawled messages".
Mr Brooks said the messages did not "represent the good people of the Cregagh".
"There is no place in our culture for the pathetic scrawled messages placed on the Cregagh bonfire this evening,” he tweeted.
"We are a proud community, proud of our culture and traditions. These images do nothing to further our cause".
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly also said the burning of flags, posters and effigies on bonfires was "wrong, deeply offensive and is a hate crime".
"Sinn Féin has reported a number of hate crimes to the PSNI related to bonfires," he said.
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said call outs to bonfire-related incidents had decreased by more than 10 per cent this year.
As more than 250 bonfires were lit in loyalist communities around the north, NIFRS said there were 203 emergency calls and that crews responded to 98 operational incidents between 6pm on Monday and 2am on Tuesday.
A spokesman said: "During this period we attended 35 bonfire related incidents.
"This represents a 12.5 per cent decrease in bonfire incidents during the same time frame in 2021," he said.
"Peak activity was between 11pm and 1am."
In north Belfast, there were no reported incidents in relation to a contentious bonfire erected near an interface between Tiger’s Bay and the New Lodge.
Residents living in the predominantly nationalist New Lodge had complained they had been kept awake by "partying and loud music" from the site at Adam Street over the weekend.