Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has branded images of Michelle O’Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and Naomi Long on a bonfire as “disgusting images” damaging to the union movement.
Inn Féin said a hate crime had been committed and that campfire regulations were urgently needed.
Ms Long said photos of the Eleventh Night bonfire at Glenfield in Carrickfergus made her physically ill.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the display and the Northern Ireland office said it was “unacceptable”. The PSNI has said it will investigate the incident.
Mr Beattie said: “Don’t align politically with any person or party, but to put their likenesses on a bonfire is appalling.
“It is a shameful, heinous act that could also bring pain to those who have lost loved ones to suicide. I’m just appalled at what happened.
“I don’t know what the people behind it thought. What was going through their minds as they placed these images on the campfire?”
Mr Beattie added: “Far from helping trade unionism and the unionist culture, these actions are having the opposite effect – damaging them.
“Hanging images on campfires does not represent the union and union culture that I believe in. Silence cannot be an option. There are some bonfires where flags, posters and effigies are not burned. These should become the norm.”
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said: “The burning of flags, posters and effigies, including First Minister-Elect Michelle O’Neill, Party leader Mary Lou McDonald and other political figures, on bonfires is wrong, deeply offensive and a hate crime .
“Sinn Féin has reported a number of bonfire-related hate crimes to the PSNI.
“It is the duty of union political and local leaders to stand up against this display of cult hatred and make it clear that they have no place in this society.
“The silence so far from some senior union leaders has been deafening.”
Mr Kelly said the incident highlighted the need to protect regulations around campfires.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted that the images were “absolutely disgusting” and expressed his solidarity with the politicians.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also condemned those who burned the effigies.
“I think it’s appalling, it’s unacceptable … among other things, election posters from different parties, Alliance, Sinn Féin, SDLP and others, the tricolor and even the Palestinian flag are burned, I think that’s wrong,” he told Radio Newstalk.
“I think it’s absolutely right that people who are part of the orange culture in our country should be proud of that… I respect people’s right to celebrate their culture and orange culture is a part of that, but you must not offend other people in the process.”
A NIO spokesman said: “This behavior was unacceptable. Everyone has the right to celebrate their culture, but they must do so in a respectful, safe, legal and responsible way.”
Jeffrey Donaldson said: “While the overwhelming number of the Twelfth Celebrations have been extremely successful, some events require further work and other performances must be clearly condemned as wrong.
“All my life I have had the privilege of letting and celebrating my identity to others around the world.
“At no point were burning placards, flags or pictures of serving politicians shown as part of it. Also slogans or displays advocating sectarian violence against anyone in this society regardless of their political position or religious beliefs.
“I was also appalled to learn that decorations of the Twelfth in Co Tyrone had been destroyed and other hate crimes against loyal orders across the province had to be investigated.
“We have a rich Ulster British cultural identity. I want people to focus on celebrating and showing our culture rather than denigrating others.
“When Republican terrorists launched a hate campaign against people of my faith, I condemned and opposed it.
“All politicians in Northern Ireland must consistently condemn hate.”
Ms Long tweeted: “I’m not sharing the images because of the risk of distressing families who have lost loved ones to suicide and because they are terminally ill.
“I will, however, share them and the pictures of the campfire builders proudly standing in front of their creation with the police. These were not last minute additions. There are photos of a children’s ‘fun day’ that took place at this fire. Our likenesses hung on it, and some local businesses even sponsored it.
“What parent would see that and think it’s acceptable for their child to see it?
“I became physically nauseous from these photos – not just from the likenesses, but from the simmering hatred and sectarianism they portray; Hatred that not only persists in our community but is passed on to the next generation quite naturally. That has to stop. Our children deserve better.”
Alliance Deputy Chairman Stephen Farry called the images “absolutely disgusting”.
He said: “Solidarity with Naomi and everyone else who is being threatened and abused around campfires.”
https://www.independent.ie/news/doug-beattie-joins-politicians-hitting-out-at-bonfire-effigies-staying-silent-cannot-be-an-option-41838903.html Doug Beattie joins politicians banging on campfire effigies: ‘Silence can’t be an option’