NORTHERN IRELAND'S First Minister, Arlene Foster, has condemned the 'sectarian and offensive' sentiments being expressed at some 12th of July bonfires.
The DUP leader was speaking yesterday after multiple reports of anti-Irish banners were spotted being burned at 11th Night bonfires across Northern Ireland, as British-identifying citizens celebrate the Battle of the Boyne and the victory of William of Orange in 1690.
Ms Foster and the Stormont Executive had previously asked people to celebrate the Twelfth at home, to curb the risk of the coronavirus pandemic being spread through mass gatherings at bonfires.
However, as videos and images of crowds gathered to burn effigies-- some with offensive anti-Irish slogans-- spread across social media, Ms Foster said she "regrets" that some people "did not take that course of action".
She told the BBC Sunday Politics programme:
"I say to those who are putting sectarian and offensive messages out there on top of bonfires , that they really need to take a look at themselves and ask themselves what sort of a Northern Ireland do they want to live in.
"Do they want to live in a Northern Ireland where everyone is entitled to proudly celebrate their culture and their identity, or do they want to live in a split Northern Ireland?
"I know certainly the one in which I want to live in."
Ms Foster's condemnation comes after a gathering in a loyalist area in North Belfast turned violent, with petrol bombs thrown at officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for two nights in a row.
The Northern Ireland Fire Service said it responded to 24 bonfire-related incidents on Saturday night-- a 30% decrease in the number of incidents last year, RTÉ News reports.
The Twelfth of July parades and bonfires regularly ignite tensions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, with Irish tri-colours, posters of Sinn Féin politicians or violent sectarian slogans sometimes being placed on bonfires.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, outdoor gatherings are limited to just 30 people, but a number of bonfires drew larger crowds.
The annual Orange Order Twelfth of July parades were cancelled earlier this year due to the pandemic.