The Sinn Fein mayor of Derry has condemned “displays of hate” on the annual internment bonfire which was lit in the Bogside on Monday night, describing the burning of posters, wreaths, and election posters as “disgraceful and totally wrong”.
t’s after the PSNI confirmed the placing of the objects is being investigated as a hate crime.
Sandra Duffy said on Tuesday: “These displays of hate are not representative of the people of this city.
“Events of recent days in the city have been a setback after what has been a hugely positive summer for both Derry and Strabane,” she said.
The real image of Derry is that of a city moving forward with events such as the Maritime Festival – a city which remains focused on the future, she added.
The PSNI is also investigating reports that gunshots were fired in the Bogside as several thousand people gathered to watch the pyre go up in flames.
The Meenan Square blaze has faced cross-community condemnation after poppy wreaths, a police Land Rover, Union flags and an image of the Queen blowing chewing gum were amongst items burned.
In 2020 a masked gunman fired shots close to the bonfire site.
Derry City & Strabane Superintendent Willy Calderwood said: “Shortly before 11.20pm, there was a report of a number of loud bangs being heard in the area.
“At around the same time, police received a third-party report about possible shots being heard in the area.
“Enquiries continue to establish exactly what occurred and to confirm if any shots were fired.”
Earlier, the Bishop of Derry said he is “angry” following the lighting of a controversial bonfire in Londonderry and blamed “tribal politics by larger parties” in Northern Ireland for ongoing sectarianism – saying the finger should not be pointed at young people.
Bishop Donal McKeown was speaking the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme after a pyre, an annual event in Derry’s Bogside, was lit shortly after 10.30pm on Monday night.
Bishop McKeown said in Derry, people have been trying to build bridges rather than walls.
He said: “Sectarianism is an iceberg, just because there’s a little tip there that we like to condemn doesn’t mean there’s not a huge underbelly of other sectarian attitudes, others tensions in society that perhaps big tribalism parties like to benefit from.”
Bishop McKeown was reluctant to condemn the actions of a small number of people as sectarianism in Northern Ireland “benefits” power struggles that are going on.
“It is the responsibility of all of us to build a shared future. That means being honest about where sectarianism actually benefits tribalism in the part of large parties,” he said.
“That’s tough for me to say but I’m angry this morning if we actually only condemn a few young people and actually miss the point that sectarianism is much more widespread than we want to admit.”
It is a contentious time in NI politics and around the world, Bishop McKeown told the BBC, whereby “confrontation seems to be the order of the day and people say they will ‘x’ in the future if only we can win this battle – and if there’s uncertainty, if there’s tension, if there’s a vacuum in the middle then somebody will fill that.”
He concluded: “Everyone has to be involved in building a shared future. Those who foment confrontation as a political weapon bear part of the responsibility for what happened at the bonfire last night and other events over the weekend.”
MLA Gary Middleton of the DUP said it’s clear the poppy wreaths placed on the bonfire were stolen and that has caused huge offence. He said the bonfire was “disgraceful” and the burning of flags, poppy wreaths and emblems is a “race to the bottom”. “It takes a sick and twisted mind to do that.”
Responding to Bishop McKeown’s comments, he said his party “doesn’t take any satisfaction” from items burned on bonfires. “There’s clearly an element of people putting young people up to this type of behaviour. There is an onus on all of us to show leadership within our communities. Culture can be celebrated – without sticking a needle in the eye of the other community.”
The controversy around the bonfire comes after the sale of Parachute Regiment flags at parade in Derry was described as a “setback” for community relations.
Mr Middleton said the recent Apprentice Boys parade was a success. “Of course we were made aware there was a stall selling flags,” he said. “The bit that’s infuriating, particularly unionists, is the lack of condemnation of up to 10,000 people chanting “up the RA” at a festival over the weekend. Until that activity is condemned, we’re going to see an escalation of these types of issues on bonfires.”
Sinead McLaughlin of the SDLP said the PSNI have been monitoring the bonfire. “Unfortunately we’ve had a really difficult weekend, where Parachute Regiment flags were sold during the Apprentice Boys parade. It makes it unlikely that we can build a shared island,” she said.
She added: “Last night was enormously disrespectful for everybody trying to build that shared community. It doesn’t represent the people of the Bogside or the people of Derry.
The current political vacuum has driven division she said. “When you continually undermine that, you will drive division,” she said.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on Monday described the bonfire, before it was lit, as an “outrageous and offensive display of hate” and said: “It should be universally rejected.”
He added: “When this generation is told there was no alternative to violence, this is the result.
“[It is] time Michelle O’Neill gave leadership and opposed this hatred. There was always an alternative to killing people.”
Sinn Fein policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said scenes from bonfires in Derry were “absolutely disgraceful and wrong.”
He added: “The burning of flags, wreaths and posters which include politicians and other political figures is deeply offensive and is a hate crime.
“There is no place for these displays of hate anywhere in our society. It must stop now.
Bonfires on August 15 are traditional in some nationalist parts of Northern Ireland to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption.
Others light the bonfires to commemorate the introduction of internment without trial of republican suspects, which was introduced by the government in 1971.