A BONFIRE lit in Derry which was adorned with Union flags and bore a banner with the name of a police officer murdered by dissident Republicans has been condemned across the board in Northern Ireland.
Bonfires were erected in the Bogside and Galliagh area of Derry on Sunday evening depicting Union flags, a poppy wreath, British military insignia-- including that of the Parachute Regiment responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre-- and Israeli flags, reflecting Republican sympathy with Palestine.
The bonfires are traditionally lit in Irish nationalist areas of Derry to celebrate the Catholic Feast of the Assumption and to mark the August anniversary of the introduction of Internment without Trial during the 'Troubles',.
The bonfires are similar to 11th Night bonfires in July where bonfires set up by unionists and loyalists are often adorned with Irish tricolours, Papal flags, Palestinian flags and, sometimes, election posters of those fighting for the reunification of Ireland.
There has been widespread condemnation of the bonfires in Derry last night after a banner was placed on the wood which was later set alight, bearing the name of murdered police constable Ronan Kerr, who was killed by dissident republicans in Omagh in 2011.
Mr Kerr, who was 25 at the time of his murder, was a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and was a Catholic and board member of his local GAA club.
Nobody has ever been brought to justice for his murder, though responsibility for the attack was claimed by a dissident republican group which claimed to be made up of former members of the Provisional IRA.
The inclusion of Mr Kerr's name on the Republican bonfires has been condemned across Northern Ireland, and the sectarian manner of all bonfires in July and August across the North has again been thrown into the spotlight.
Banners bearing threats toward PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, and another private citizen, were also seen on one of the bonfires.
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the bonfire in Derry "with posters including reference to murdered Police Officer Ronan Kerr is a disgrace and is NOT representative of the Derry people. It is as bad as any of the Loyalist bonfires throughout the years with burning effigies and hate posters."
The bonfire in Derry with posters including reference to murdered Police Officer Ronan Kerr is a disgrace and is NOT representative of the Derry people. It is as bad as any of the Loyalist bonfires throughout the years with burning effigies and hate posters.
— Gerry Kelly (@GerryKellyMLA) August 16, 2021
Alliance Councillor for Omagh, Stephen Donnelly said: " Setting alight a banner bearing the name of a young man who died at just 25 defending the community he loved might well give some a sick kick, but they will never be able to burn out the respect and pride that Ronan Kerr’s memory is held in Omagh to this day."
Alliance leader Naomi Long shared Cllr Donnelly's message and added: "Absolutely abhorrent behaviour from people with nothing to offer the community but hate and misery.
Absolutely abhorrent behaviour from people with nothing to offer the community but hate and misery.
Ronan Kerr had something better to offer: he set out to serve the community and build a better future.
His memory burns brighter than any hate-fuelled fire. https://t.co/RZRrofRf7m
— Naomi Long MLA (@naomi_long) August 16, 2021
"Ronan Kerr had something better to offer: he set out to serve the community and build a better future. His memory burns brighter than any hate-fuelled fire."
Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan also condemned the displays of "hatred and sectarianism" in the Bogside area, saying it was "disgraceful".
"These displays of sectarianism and hate have no place in our society and are not representative of the local community," she said.
"This was in stark contrast to the many excellent community events held throughout the area organised by the Gasyard Féile and supported by community organisations which were widely supported.
"It is time these illegal bonfires which promote hatred come to an end once and for all."
Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney said that both Loyalist July bonfires and Republican August bonfires "both represent sectarian hatred. Neither represent celebration of cultural tradition or national identity".
There is absolutely no difference between these August & July bonfires in Derry & Antrim.
Both represent sectarian hatred. Neither represent a celebration of cultural tradition or national identity.
No Irish republican would say otherwise.#StandUpAgainstSectarianism pic.twitter.com/R88V62VhSm
— Declan Kearney (@DeclanKearneySF) August 15, 2021
Popular social media page 'Irish Unity', which boasts hundreds of thousands of followers across multiple social media channels, shared the image of the Derry bonfire and said "We all need to move forward free from these towers of hate.
"Wrong in July. Wrong in August."
We all need to move forward free from these towers of hate. Wrong in July. Wrong in August. pic.twitter.com/UnCCEh42O4
— Irish Unity 🇮🇪🇵🇸 (@IrishUnity) August 15, 2021
The PSNI have confirmed they are "aware of a banner that was placed on a bonfire in Meenan Square in the Bogside area of Derry/Londonderry this evening making threats towards police officers and a member of the public".
Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said: "The display of this material has been perceived as both offensive and distasteful", and confirmed a full investigation will be carried out.