“The revelation that Belfast City Council is involved in facilitating the storage of pallets (including stolen pallets) to be burnt on loyalist bonfires typically adorned with posters of nationalist politicians, Kill All Taigs-emblazoned Tricolours, Celtic shirts and a statue of the Virgin Mary would be remarkable on its own, but news that the stored pallets have been ‘stolen’ just as City Councillors were set to agree that the material would not be returned to loyalists more than suggests that something is seriously rotten in
the state of Denmark City Hall.” (Slugger O’Toole)
The story above caught my eye (click on links to see the full story). I had not paid much attention to Northern Ireland for years, since the Good Friday Agreement up till the time of the Brexit Referendum. I had rather hoped that with the onset of the Peace Process, Northern Ireland would gradually return to normality. Brexit has the potential of throwing a spanner in the works. The Slugger O’Toole story above however seems reminiscent of the bad old days. With the DUP propping up the Torys the worry is that even more of a blind eye will be turned.
In the 1990’s the annual Drumcree Loyalist March was headline news in the UK. It was one of the many occasions where the Loyalist would march through Nationalist areas to “show who’s boss” or “simply exercising their legitimate right to march where they wanted” depending on your point of view. Since the Peace Process and the formation of the Parades Commission such marches are more managed and less controversial, much to the frustration of some elements in the Loyalist community. The marching season, in the run up to the 12th July, was always a worry in terms of violence but has been calmer over the past 20 years.
Loyalist bonfires used to be small affairs and fairly harmless, admittedly with a stuffed effigy of the Pope on top, but probably similar in scale to Guy Fawkes bonfires in England, though of course some of these can also be quite large such as that in Lewes.
In recent years however there has been a trend for larger Loyalist bonfires in Northern Ireland as for example in Figure 1 the Ballymacash bonfire pictured above. Unable to express their traditional right through marching, Loyalist bonfires have grown bigger and the number of hated Catholic/Nationalist symbols to be incinerated dramatically increased.
Another issue as in Fig. 2 is bonfires being lit on traditional sites close to buildings which may have been fine for the smaller bonfires of the past but terrifying to local residents given the trend for larger bonfires. Houses have literally to be boarded up to prevent the windows from exploding. Local residents are often not keen on these bonfires.
There are strong links between Northern Ireland and Scotland and in particular Glasgow, with the Loyalists supporting the Rangers football team and the Nationalists Celtic. It seems that the burning of Celtic shirts is not affecting the team as it has had its best season in over 100 years. Rangers of course is not doing so well and possibly producing an increased paranoia.
The story above does however raise serious doubts about the impartiality of the authorities in Northern Ireland. I have no concerns about the Loyalists keeping their traditional bonfires, but both the size and destruction of Nationalist symbols seem excessive and bordering on intimidatory. Indeed as someone who was brought up in the Catholic tradition I find burning statues of the Virgin Mary deeply offensive and potentially be considered a hate crime in other circumstances.