Paul Girvan, an MLA from the DUP party in Northern Ireland, said in a radio interview that he has “no problem” with the flag of the Republic of Ireland being burned during Northern Ireland’s Eleventh Night bonfires.

In an interview with radio host Frank Mitchell on U105, Girvan said that burning the tricolor, the flag of the Republic of Ireland, was simply “part of the culture” of the bonfires in Northern Ireland that typically are held on the night of July 11th.

"I come from a society that this is part of their culture to have an Eleventh Night bonfire and what goes into that bonfire is important,” said Girvan in the interview.

"Also some people feel it's perfectly alright to put the flag of a foreign nation, which actually at one time claimed that they had some right over Northern Ireland.”

“It’s just the way we are,” added Girvan.

“I've no problem about burning of a tricolour on top of a bonfire let's be honest. I’m not going to make any apologies for that. That is the flag of a foreign country as far as I'm concerned.”

Mitchell asked Girvan to consider the situation in another light, since Girvan is an elected official serving in Stormont, and pointed out that the ties between there and Dublin are important. 

Girvan replied that it is all “blown out of all proportion", adding: "There are bonfires in August as well where the Union flag would be burned."

"I'm just saying it does happen on bonfires and on many occasions the people who put it on a bonfire are saying 'this is something we do not want to see ruling over us'."

Girvan said the situation could lead to a discussion where people could learn about the cultural disparities and differences of opinions amongst communities.

“There's an opportunity for people to learn about others culture and where things come from and why certain things happen," he added.

"Young people need to see that there's a difference of opinion and they have to respect differences. I think that's something that comes about through maturity."

Girvan’s comments were made right after the decision was made to move one particularly large bonfire to a further location in the Ballyduff estate after residents had concerns the fire would come too close to their homes.

Mitchell suggested that as this is a time where a “shared future” in Ireland is being worked toward, why not prevent the burning of effigies to have a more welcoming effect?

“That’s something we will be taking a lead on, but it’s extremely difficult  sometimes to put forward that argument whenever people see their culture being eroded, they start to fight back.”

Girvan continued that this year’s Eleventh Night bonfires are larger as a direct result of the flags protest in Belfast City Hall that occurred in late 2012 and early this year. 

Despite Girvan’s comments saying he has no problem with the tricolor being burned, a DUP spokesperson said, “All flags should be respected. We don't want to see anyone's culture disrespected."

Another MLA, Alliance leader David Ford, responded to Girvan’s comments saying, “It is unacceptable to burn any flag no matter what country it represents.”

"As we seek to have a peaceful summer, tensions should be kept to a minimum. People are entitled to celebrate their culture, however they should not seek to offend others.”

Ford added, "Politicians have a responsibility to show leadership and set an example. I believe his comments fall well short of what is expected from an MLA."

Listen to MLA Paul Girvan’s interview with radio host Frank Mitchell here:

An Eleventh Night bonfire in East Belfast in 2012Trish Semple / Demotix