Northern Ireland news

Unionist 'cultural convention' to deliver findings in January

The DUP's Lee Reynolds and PUP's Billy Hutchinson
Brendan Hughes

THE unionist "cultural convention" called in response to tensions over bonfires in Belfast is set to deliver its findings in January, councillors leading the move have said.

In July, the DUP and PUP announced plans for a cultural convention in the autumn to "ensure that the unionist community can go forward with one voice in promoting our culture, heritage and tradition".

The joint statement came in the days after Belfast City Council secured a landmark court injunction against several loyalist bonfires.

It was secured in a bid to prevent further materials being added to four bonfires in the east of the city.

Unionist parties faced questions but remained silent about the legal action, which Sinn Féin insisted was backed by all parties.

The joint statement was issued by DUP councillor Lee Reynolds, the party's group leader on Belfast City Council, and PUP leader Billy Hutchinson.

They did not mention the injunction, but accused Sinn Féin of a "cultural war" against Twelfth of July events including bonfires.

The councillors encouraged unionists to take part in the cultural convention to "ensure that our celebrations continue to be bigger, better and more successful than ever before".

Mr Reynolds said the convention has involved engaging with different groups, and they hope to agree on a document in the coming weeks.

"We've a paper to go out in early January and follow it up with the meetings to discuss," he said.

"Two councillors have also been engaging with different groups and gathering paper suggestions from them to feed into it all.

"The engagement with groups and individuals has been ongoing since September. The aim is to have an agreed and endorsed document by the end of January. The early January document will be for consultation/discussion."

Mr Hutchinson said he understood why some people could be sceptical, but he insisted they want those involved in Twelfth of July events to be heard.

He said they would be giving their cultural convention results to Belfast City Council.

"What we're doing, the reason why we called it, was to try to find out what people thought around the run-up to the Twelfth, and how people should be celebrating that culture," he said.

The councillor added: "We have consulted with a number of groups. Groups have come forward to give evidence to this cultural forum.

"We're a bit behind time but we should be finished by the end of January."

In November, The Irish News revealed the court injunction against several loyalist bonfires cost city ratepayers almost £4,500.

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