Police are treating as a sectarian hate crime the theft of 23 GAA flags that had flown in the centre of Dungiven for the recent Féile competition, the ‘Journal’ has learned.
The flags, representing counties and clubs from all over Ireland and England, were stolen sometime between Friday night and early Saturday morning last.
The flags were attached to lamp-posts, some up to 20 -30 feet high, along upper Main Street in Dungiven and along Curragh Road.
PSNI Constable Mark France, the investigating officer, said: “Police received a report that a vehicle had been driven over the pitch at the Kevin Lynch grounds at Curragh Road, Dungiven, over the weekend of Friday 26th.
“A number of flags were also stolen. The incident has been reported as a sectarian hate crime.”
East Derry Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Ó’hOisin believes the flags are destined to be placed on a Twelfth of July bonfire.
I would challenge politicians to step up to the mark and condemn the actions of those who stole these flags.Cathal Ó’hOisin
“It’s a shame to think that, after a wonderful weekend, when hundreds of children gathered from across the island to celebrate this great sporting competition of Gaelic games, these flags are potentially going to be placed on a bonfire.
“It’s a serious act of provocation.
“I would challenge politicians to step up to the mark and condemn the actions of those who stole these flags,” added Mr. Ó’hOisin.
A spokesperson from Kevin Lynch Hurling Club, which was one of the host clubs for the Féile, said: “We don’t know who took the flags or why, but it’s strange that the flags stolen are GAA flags, flags that people would know straight away are GAA flags.”
The spokesperson said the only flags not taken were black and white, and green and yellow chequered flags, flags not automatically thought of as GAA flags. The spokesperson pointed out the Offaly flag, which is green, white and gold, was singled out and taken from a bunch of black and white flags. He said “you would see through it if it was somebody carrying on who was drunk and jumped up on somebody’s shoulders and pulled one down, but not all 23. They went to some effort to take them.”
Local Sinn Fein councillor Sean McGlinchey said: “Whoever stole the flags have absolutely nothing to offer anyone. Had the PSNI camera still been in operation at the top of the town, and not cut down as it was in January, it could have been used to identify whoever it was that stole the flags.”
Constable France also said: “On Monday, 29th, police received a report that unknown persons had entered the Owenbeg GAA grounds at Foreglen Road, Dungiven, in the early hours of Tuesday June 23. A number of flags were stolen. At this stage, no political or sectarian motive has been reported. Police appeal for anyone with information about the incidents to get in touch with police on the 101 non-emergency number.