A local football club has described the placing of their flag on top of an internment bonfire as a ‘hate crime’.
A Hanover FC flag - who are based in Portadown - was spotted on a bonfire in Craigavon on Wednesday evening.
The actions have been widely condemned by local unionist and nationalist representatives, who also called it a ‘hate crime’.
The flag had been created for the club to take to France in 2016 to support Northern Ireland in the European Championships.
DUP Councillor Darryn Causby raised the issue with police and said there was a sinister element in targeting the club.
He said: “To deliberately target a local football club who every year raise thousands of pounds for charity, have a growing youth football set up in Brownstown for girls and boys and who are well respected in their league and the footballing fraternity.
“They have been on the go for over half a century and to attack them in that way is nothing short of disgraceful and disrespectful.
“It is quite serious, that area in Craigavon would be associated with dissident republicanism and I would be concerned that there is a more sinister element trying to heighten tensions and target Hanover Football Club.
“It seems to be a very pointed attack towards them, which is disgraceful. I would ask those who politically represent them to come out and explain their actions. What is the purpose of this?”
Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd hit out at the incident: “The burning of symbols of a football club and flags which are important to the unionist community is wrong and a hate crime. It is also unjustifiable and anti-republican.”
While SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: “Absolutely disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour, burning flags and other symbols including those of a football club can only be described as a hate crime. Those responsible have little to offer society.”
The club issued a statement on Wednesday night, describing the incident as an attempt to stir up sectarian tensions.
The statement said: “As a community based football club we believe this to be a serious hate crime and feel that this flag has been placed upon the fire due only to the fact that it has the constitutional flag of this country displayed upon it.
“This flag was designed for club members who travelled to support Northern Ireland in the European Championships in France and we as a club feel that the burning of this flag is nothing other than an attempt by dissident republicans to furthermore stir up sectarian tensions in the local area through the glorification of terrorism.
“We have reported this hate crime to the PSNI and have also notified our local councillors. We thank all those who have contacted us for their support as always whilst also encouraging those nationalist councillors with contacts in the area to pro-actively encourage the return of the flag in order to ensure that their community is not now looked upon as a community with no morals, who would burn the flag of a local football club that works tirelessly within the community to build strong cross community relationships through sport.”
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said: “I have spoken again with the PSNI concerning the bonfire in Drumbeg. It is unacceptable that a local football teams banner, our National Flag and a UDR regimental flag have been placed on the fire.
“It is of note that the flags displayed on the fire look very similar to the 4 flags stolen from the Flush Place (Lurgan) flag pole at the weekend. The presence of the flag of our country and that of one of the military regiments who served with distinction in the most difficult of times is an indication of the respect and tolerance shown to Unionists.
“Given that Republicans cannot even say the name of our country why should we be surprised that this vacuum is filled by people who want to burn our flag and a banner from a community lead football team.
“I welcome the condemnations from across the board and welcome that the PSNI are gathering their evidence, investigating and that one arrest has already been made in connection with the bonfire. This cannot and will not go unchallenged.
“We must also ensure the safety of our PSNI officers in dealing with this therefore I would encourage all to allow the officers to take the lead in these investigations.”
Cllr David Jones, independent Councillor at ABC Council said: “I am totally dismayed and disgusted to learn the flag of the local Hanover Football Club, a club that gives a tremendous contribution especially to young people, has been placed on a republican bonfire in Lurgan.
“I was also sadened to hear a festival in Armagh with GAA tournaments was glorifying terrorism in the form of the Mairead Farrell Ladies Football Challenge Cup. Taking into account the naming of a Play Park in Newry after a PIRA hunger striker, I do not believe such a festival/tournament should be held on ABC Council property glorifying terrorism. I have called for an investigation by Council into this festival and it’s future.”