The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has apologized for his bonfire night tweet as Sinn Féin's leader warns marching season will be a leadership test for Unionists.

As Northern Ireland prepares for the Ulster Protestant celebration, marking the victory of Protestant King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, tensions have already begun to mount. Concerns have been voiced about the potential for disorder in Northern Ireland around the July 12 marches amid anger at the Northern Ireland Protocol which sparked turbulence in the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party with new leaders recently installed in both parties.

This week Senior Conservative member of parliament and Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Simon Hoare, tweeted “Who knew William of Orange arrived in Ireland with hundreds of wooden pallets hence the traditional pallet burning fiesta began," the PA reported. Hoare has deleted the tweet and apologized for the “offense” caused.

Traditionally bonfires are lit on July 11th ahead of the anniversary and already posters, some including politician's images, from the political parties Sinn Fein, Social Democratic, and Labour Party, and Alliance material, have been seen on some pyres. In the past Irish tricolours and European Union flags as well as effigies of Irish leaders have also been seen on some bonfires.

He tweeted “I want to say fully &unequivocally that I am sorry. I intended only to be humorous/tongue in cheek & I got it wrong [sic]."

Hoare also clarified that the high bonfires, often dangerously high were the target of his tweet.

He tweeted “My point is the dangerously high pallet structures and risks they create to public health. There’s also no need to cover them with posters/images of political opponents. That’s plain divisive.”

"Traditionally bonfires are lit on July 11th ahead of the anniversary and already posters, some including politician's images... have been seen on some pyres."

"Traditionally bonfires are lit on July 11th ahead of the anniversary and already posters, some including politician's images... have been seen on some pyres."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long is among the politicians whose posters are on bonfires.

 She tweeted: “I get trolled a lot, falsely accused of hating loyalists and unionists. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d love to know what those people make of loyalists burning my image in an act of intimidation and blatant hatred.

“Burning people’s images isn’t culture, folks.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie also tweeted his opposition to the burning of election posters and flags on bonfires. He described it as “not an expression of unionist culture." He added, “It’s an expression of hate.”

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has said that the loyalist marching season will be a “leadership test” for unionism in Northern Ireland. 

The loyalist marching season in Northern Ireland is a “leadership test” for unionism, according to Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald.

Speaking following her first meeting with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leader of the Democratic Unionist Party at Stormont, McDonald said: “This isn’t the first summer where not just posters but sometimes other edifices of Sinn Fein people and republicans appear on bonfires, and that is sinister, it is not acceptable and should not be acceptable to anyone.

“We spoke with Jeffrey Donaldson about calm, particularly at the interface areas but more generally across the north, and we have said to him that now is the time for leadership and now is the time for those with influence to make very, very clear to others who may wish to stoke up tensions, and who may wish to create fear and unease across the community, that that behavior is not acceptable and that they are the minority, we are the many, those that wish to have a safe and peaceful summer," the PA report.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

“I do think this is a moment, a leadership test for unionism, as to how they deal with this. Nobody’s posters should be appearing on bonfires and so that falls largely to unionists to confront that reality to make sure that it is remedied.”

When asked about McDonald's comments Sir Donaldson told UTV "Well look, I don’t control bonfires and what people do with them, but I would certainly encourage people to act in a way that is respectful.

“We all have our differences and at this time of the year those differences become accentuated, but I’ve never thought that burning effigies or posters – and I have had my poster burnt on a bonfire before by republicans – I don’t think that is the way we want to see.

“I’m happy to say that when people are at bonfires, when they’re organizing bonfires, it’s a legitimate aspect of culture.

“But I would encourage people not to engage in anything that might be seen as provocative, and I don’t think that burning posters, whether it’s loyalists or republicans or anyone else, is a way of being respectful.”

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