SINN Féin MLA Declan Kearney has reported a ‘sectarian hate crime’ to police after a crude effigy of him was torched in the Steeple.
The effigy of the Assembly rep, which was wearing a Celtic top, was hanged by the neck from the estate’s 11th Night bonfire.
Party election posters and Irish national flags were also put to the flame at Mallusk Gardens.
“Once again sectarian displays have formed part of an illegal bonfire in Mallusk Gardens in Antrim, where my stolen election posters along with an effigy in my image, and Irish national flags were burned on the 11 July night,” he fumed.
“It is totally unacceptable that, for the second year running, the extremists responsible, who hide behind masks and a cloak of anonymity, have been allowed to burn these items on an illegal bonfire with impunity.
“Vile threats and sectarian abuse associated with this bonfire have also been directed towards me and my constituency office, both on social media and through calls to my office phone.
“None of this behaviour represents legitimate expressions of culture.
These are sectarian hate crimes, which include an effective threat to my life and well-being.
“This is Antrim Town in 2021, not Mississippi in the 1960s.”
He argued that the incident underlined the need for stringent new guidelines.
“Our society needs to adopt a zero tolerance against such displays of sectarian hate and bigotry.
“All bonfires should be subject to proper legal regulation and enforcement; based upon existing environmental legislation; permission and approval; respect for public and private property; public health considerations; and community safety.
“If bonfires are to be used in a proportionate way as a form of legal, legitimate, cultural celebration, they must be respectful and compliant with good relations policy, and command the support of the neighbourhoods in which they are built.
“Any deviation from legally established standards should be subject to rigorous statutory enforcement.
“All relevant statutory bodies and government departments must meet their legal duties to ensure that this happens.”
And it should begin, he added, with a full probe into what happened in the Steeple last week.
“I now expect the PSNI to carry out a full and robust investigation into the Mallusk Gardens bonfire on the Steeple estate, with a view to making arrests and mounting successful prosecutions for these hate crimes and other criminal offences,” he said.