The effigy of Michelle O'Neill, the Vice President of Sinn Féin, that was placed upon a bonfire in Co Tyrone for the Eleventh Night events last night is being treated as a hate crime.
The Sinn Féin leader's image along with Irish tricolor flags were placed on a pyre to be lit as part of the July 12th celebrations.
Sharing a photo of the bonfire with O'Neill's effigy on it, the Loyalist Eastvale Avenue Bonfire Dungannon Facebook page said: "Word on the street is.. she's lighting the bonnie 😁🇬🇧🔥🇬🇧"
Word on the street is.. she's lighting the bonnie 😁🇬🇧🔥🇬🇧Posted by Loyalist Eastvale Avenue Bonfire Dungannon on Tuesday, July 11, 2023
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is treating this demonstration as a hate crime.
It's estimated that 250 bonfires were lit in loyalist communities across Northern Ireland last night.
This comes just days after the police announced investigations into those behind a bonfire in Moygashel, Co Tyrone, which featured a photo of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, an Irish tricolor, republican flag, and mockup of the Good Friday Agreement.
On Tuesday, July 11, police in Dungannon said they were talking to community representatives about removing the effigy of Michelle O'Neill.
In a statement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said “Officers are aware of material placed on a bonfire in Eastvale, Dungannon earlier today.
“Police are treating this as a hate crime and are liaising with community representatives with a view to having the material removed.”
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician Deborah Erskine said the use of O'Neill's image and the Irish flag was “wrong”. She urged those responsible to remove the effigy.
I have become aware of an effigy on a bonfire in Dungannon, due to be lit tonight. This is not culture. It is wrong. Incidents like this detract from the cultural significance of why we have 11th night bonfires. I am urging those responsible to remove these items.— Deborah Erskine (@deborah_cheryl) July 11, 2023
Also on the evening of the 11th in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, on the outskirts of north Belfast, community members and the police worked together to remove an effigy, above a poster bearing the name of Sinn Féin Councillor Taylor McGrann.
Sinn Féin has reported a 'sectarian hate crime' to the PSNI after an effigy has been hung from a noose above a bonfire in Rathcoole - next to the name of Cllr Taylor McGrann.
In Derry a large bonfire and children's bonfire have been festooned with Irish tri-colours in Drumahoe. pic.twitter.com/8YRt8y94kO— Garrett Hargan (@GAHargan) July 11, 2023
At Portaferry Road, in Newtownards, in County Down emergency services were called at 10 pm when a man fell from a bonfire structure.
Another angle of the latest bonfire accident. If this happened on a building site there would be multiple investigations and potentially criminal charges for negligence. Why are these people above the law? @ChiefConPSNI pic.twitter.com/p5iilrREQ6— Common Cents (@Reunify32) July 12, 2023
In Craigyhill, Larne, County Antrim the community set a 210-foot bonfire alight beating their 202-foot record in 2022. It later toppled over.
Northern Ireland’s tallest bonfire in Larne topples over around an hour after being lit. pic.twitter.com/YCIwMSgmwM— Jordan Moates (@jordan_utv) July 12, 2023
The Eleventh Night fires are traditionally lit on the eve of the Twelfth of July. This holiday commemorates the Battle of Boyne in 1690, which saw Protestant King William of Orange defeat Catholic King James II to secure a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.
Most of the estimated 250 bonfires pass off every year without incident, but a number continue to be a source of controversy. The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service reported 34 callouts to bonfire-related incidents. Belfast Live reports that while calls were down almost 30% overall in 2022, there was only one less bonfire-related call.
On July 12th, scores of parades will take place across Northern Ireland. The main demonstrations will take place in 18 venues including Belfast as well as Bangor, Ballymena, Ballinamallard, in Co Fermanagh, and Magherafelt in Co Derry. An estimated 500k people are expected to participate in the festivities marking the 333rd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.
Ahead of the celebrations, the DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson released the following statement: “Celebrations over the 11th and 12th are part of the cultural fabric of Northern Ireland and for the vast majority of us they are an occasion where families will come together, often traveling home from wherever they now live to enjoy the occasion together,” he said.
“I am proud of my culture and my tradition, but I recognize that there are different cultures and traditions within Northern Ireland. For those of us who do cherish the legacy of the Glorious Revolution then the best way to show that to others is through peaceful and positive celebrations.
“Those don’t include the burning of flags or election posters on a bonfire, but thankfully in the vast majority of cases that does not happen. Unfortunately, it will be a minority of cases where offense is caused that will dominate the headlines. As unionists, we need to recognize that such incidents are self-inflicted wounds.”