Unionist politicians have appealed for the return of a number of flags that were stolen from a Banbridge GAA club after a Sinn Fein councillor claimed they could end up on an Eleventh Night bonfire.
The red and black flags, erected in support of Down’s footballers as they prepare to take on Tyrone in the Ulster Football Championship final on July 16, were taken from Clann na Banna’s Scarva Road grounds sometime on July 7.
Sinn Fein Councillor Kevin Savage said he fears the stolen flags will end up on a bonfire in the town tomorrow night (July 11). But his comments have been criticised by a number of unionist politicians, who have appealed for the stolen flags to be returned.
Branding the theft of the flags “disgraceful”, Councillor Savage commented: “Clann na Banna, along with thousands of others, are celebrating Down’s upcoming participation in the Ulster Football Final.
“The theft of the flags is disgraceful and there are fears that the stolen items will end up being burnt on a loyalist bonfire on the 11th night.
“How one expression of culture can be burnt by another group claiming culture as their motivation is beyond me.
“The theft has been reported to the police and I would urge anyone with influence, including local unionist politicians, to ensure the stolen property is returned and does not end up being burnt upon an 11th night bonfire.”
Responding to Councillor Savage’s comments, Upper Bann DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said: “I would urge those who have stolen the flags to return them to the owners or indeed me or any of the elected representatives in the area.
“As we approach the marching season it is important that everyone remains calm. Sinn Fein in their comments have been unhelpful and I would encourage them to be politically responsible in their approach to this. It is important not to make assumptions regarding flags.
“I trust that the stolen flags will be returned.”
Ulster Unionist Councillor Glenn Barr, who congratulated the local GAA club’s Under 14 team on their recent success, said he’s been assured that the flags will not be burnt on an Eleventh Night bonfire.
“I appeal for the Down flags to be returned either through myself or any other elected member,” he said.
“I’ve been assured by the bonfire organisers that should someone bring them to the fire, that they will not be on it. And they have also asked for them to be returned.”
Condemning the theft of the flags, DUP Councillor Paul Greenfield added: “This is not helpful and is a distraction from the fantastic spectacle that the 12th celebration brings and promises to be in Banbridge on Wednesday. It is a great family day out which so many come out to watch and enjoy.
“I would hope these items could be returned to the club and would ask that this is the case.”
A number of people took to social media to condemn the theft from the club as “shocking” and “disgraceful”, but a post on the Clann na Banna CLG Facebook page urged supporters and friends of the club not to make further comment.
Appealing for the return of the stolen flags, the post said: “We would appeal to anyone with any knowledge of this to contact the police so that we can have our merchandise returned.
“Clann na Banna is very proud of our cross-community ethos and we welcome players from other communities at all levels throughout the club.”
Police have confirmed that the theft was reported to them on July 8 and that officers are investigating.
Meanwhile, Upper Bann Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie has appealed to bonfire organisers not to put flags, effigies or election posters on Eleventh Night bonfires.