Leona O'Neill: Why do we tolerate sectarian displays of 'culture'?

The Twelfth has come and gone, but with August's internment commemorations now fast approaching, Leona O'Neill wonders why we continue to tolerate divisive displays of 'culture' 21 years on from the Good Friday Agreement

Teen bonfire builders are products of toxic and sectarian environments

THERE'S always a lot of talk about culture and traditions during our summer months. It's the season when it all comes to the fore.

We have just emerged from two weeks of commemorations in the unionist community. The weeks leading up to the Twelfth are fraught, because if there's one thing we love here in Northern Ireland, it's winding one another up. It's in our DNA.

Huge bonfires were built all over the north and a lot of them were adorned with anti-Catholic symbols. The flags Catholics hold dear were set alight alongside the posters of politicians. Boards and bed sheets were painted with derogatory remarks about the Ballymurphy families, and slogans like KAT ('Kill All Taigs') were seen on several pyres.

There were videos of crowds singing anti-Catholic songs and police claim they were positive that loyalist paramilitaries were involved in one controversial bonfire in Belfast.

Following the midnight lighting of the bonfires, thousands of the Orange Order members marched through cities, towns and villages of Northern Ireland on the Twelfth.

In August, we will see bonfires lit to commemorate the introduction of Internment. In Catholic areas such as the Bogside and the New Lodge, we will see massive structures built adorned with the flags Protestant people hold dear. They will burn poppy wreaths and Somme banners and perhaps boards and bed sheets with insulting and offensive messages on them.

None of this will come as any surprise to anyone who resides here, because people on both 'sides' have been doing this for years while claiming that the 'other side' are worse than them. Anyone pointing this out this blatantly obvious fact from the sidelines will be told they are just plain wrong.

If anything, this type of tit-for-tat nonsense has become worse, fiercer and more brutal as the years of relative peace have rolled on.

There are so many dimensions to bonfire building and why our young people find it such a valuable and rewarding pastime. According to a recent study by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF), it seems culture and tradition aren't chief among them.

Building 'something to be proud of', feeling 'part of something' and 'doing something positive' for their community was higher up the scale.

Only they know why they adorn their pyres with this offensive material. But what I do know is that they are all, Catholic and Protestant, products of their environment. These teens' environments seem to be toxic and sectarian even 21 years after our conflict ended and we were supposed to be coming together.

Such traditions do little for community unity but everything to keep division, hatred, distrust and sectarianism alive.

We have a wound here in Northern Ireland. And it's made up of cuts made by every single murder, every attack, every atrocity, every lost life, every destroyed life and every heartache. It weeps tears and hardly ever heals over.

We stick a plaster over it most of the time, but then, every so often we just plain rip it off and expose it to the elements. We pick at it until it gets red and inflamed and then we stick the plaster back on and hope for the best.

We cannot keep on excusing this type of dangerous behaviour as ‘culture'.

Maybe for the sake of the next generation – for we seem to be losing the current one to a different kind of Northern Ireland darkness – it's time we concentrated on the culture of getting along with one another.

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