An Ulster Unionist MLA has called on the PSNI to take action to prevent flags bearing images of HM The Queen, Prince Harry and fallen soldier Channing Day from ending up on a republican bonfire in west Belfast.
Former Army captain Doug Beattie MC said any attempt to burn the flags should be treated as a hate crime.
A post on the Nationalist Bonfires Facebook page, which has more than 7,600 followers, shows a picture of a number of flags that are apparently going to be burnt on a bonfire in Twinbrook this month.
The flags include one carrying an image of HM The Queen, another of HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and even one with a picture of young army medic Channing Day, who was killed in Afghanistan in October 2012. Others include flags commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Reacting to the Facebook post, Mr Beattie called on the police to step in and prevent the flags from being put on the bonfire.
“I think it should be treated as a hate crime. It should be viewed in exactly the same way as burning effigies or pictures of politicians on the Eleventh Night,” he told the News Letter.
“The police have prior warning of this. It’s an open source and police have it so they can and should take action to stop it before these flags do go on to a bonfire.
“The evidence is there, they just need to act on it.”
Referring to the suggestion that a flag carrying the image of Channing Day may be burnt by republicans, Mr Beattie said any such move would be “utterly disgraceful”.
“This was a young corporal who never served a day in her life in Northern Ireland, but sadly she lost her life serving in Afghanistan,” the Upper Bann MLA said.
“Sadly there are some republicans out there who don’t see the person in the uniform, they just see the uniform and they are filled with abject hatred.
“Channing Day was an angel in Afghanistan. She was a medic who saved the lives of British soldiers, Afghan soldiers and civilians. She saved many lives, but tragically she lost hers.
“For anyone to use her picture like this, or to even intimate that they are going to do so, is absolutely disgusting.
“The people doing this have nothing to offer society. By abusing the tragedy of what happened to Channing Day, all they are doing is causing further hurt and heartbreak for her family. It’s absolutely disgraceful.”
The PSNI said: “The burning of a flag is not in itself unlawful; however the act may constitute other offences. These include theft and criminal damage if the flag belongs to another person; incitement; or behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace.
“When an incident or crime has been reported to police by the victim or by any other person and they perceive it as being motivated by prejudice or hate, it will be recorded and investigated as a hate incident or crime.”