'Republican Rudolph' sparks festive anger

SANTA'S helpers and a reindeer sparked anger among protestants in Tyrone by wearing nationalist colours, it has been claimed.

DUP assembly member Ian McCrea said he had been contacted by a number of concerned families who attended the Christmas lights switch-on in Cookstown last month.

As part of the festive celebrations, a number of Christmas characters - including a snowman and a reindeer - wore scarves which were similar in colour to the Irish tri-colour.

"Having seen the pictures, I can clearly see why many people from the unionist community would be offended," said Mr McCrea.

"To me, these scarves clearly look like tri-colours - the flag of the Irish republic - which as we all know too well, is a very divisive symbol here in Northern Ireland.

"Maybe there was no intention by the organisers to cause offence by using these colours, but I think the sensitivity of both community surrounding the use of the colours must be taken into account at all public events."

Mr McCrea said the families who contacted him, were made to feel isolated by the scarves.

"Christmas celebrations such as this should never become a cold house for protestants.

"It is a pity that such an important time of celebration, has been ruined for these protestant families who brought their young children for the lights switch-on, and I hope that the organisers will not make the same mistake again next year," said Mr McCrea, who also sits on Cookstown council.

Mr McCrea's assembly colleague for Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone dismissed the concerns as "unbelievable".

"This is just ludicrous - who really thinks a snowman and a reindeer would set out to offend anyone by wearing these colours?" said the SDLP MLA.

"I don't know how anyone can take offence, and I cannot believe that Ian McCrea has taken the time to comment on something like this, at a time when people are losing their jobs and we are facing more and more cuts to our services," added Mr McGlone.