Letter: Incitement to hatred has been allowed to become an integral part of unionist culture

A letter from Tom Cooper:
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After the North's 'Eleventh Night' bonfire in Moygashel Co Tyrone, Irish society witnessed yet again the sectarian burning of Irish flags alongside a poster of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

This burning of the Irish Tricolour in parts of Northern Ireland has become a global cultural phenomenon. Many of these bonfires contain vast imitation funeral pyres adorned with nationalist and republican effigies of people who were voted for, in the main, by Catholics. We are told that these bonfires are inclusive celebrations of loyalist culture where everyone is welcome and respected. This ‘respect’ does not appear to include the thousands who vote for the politicians whose images, names and symbols are consumed in numerous celebratory conflagrations.

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Were Jewish, Muslim or black people’s representatives so depicted, it would rightfully be called racist. Why is it acceptable for nationalist and Alliance Party representatives to be so depicted?. In the context of an explicitly Protestant celebration it is sectarian. Incredibly, many grand officers of the Orange Order are also Church of Ireland ministers. If the Orange Order and the Church of Ireland cannot come out and account for itself, are there ordinary members not afraid to openly protest this cancerous scandal?

Nowhere else in Europe would the annual ceremonial burning of many thousands of the national flag of a peaceful neighbouring state go virtually unremarked upon. What if, every Bastille Day, the Union Jack was burned across France, or if on St George's Day the flags of Pakistan, Jamaica, or Nigeria were burned in British cities? There would be harsh diplomatic protests and predictable riots in the streets. But in the North of Ireland this systematic and deliberate incitement to hatred has been allowed to become an integral part of unionist culture.

Tom Cooper, Irish National Congress, Dublin

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