Northern Ireland news

Orangeman Robin Swann urges people to celebrate the Twelfth at home

Health minister Robin Swann

People taking part in Twelfth celebrations in the coming days have been urged to remain cautious in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

While many Eleventh night bonfires have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, pop-up pyres may be planned in some unionist areas for later today.

Leading figures in the unionist community have urged members of the public to follow public health guidelines.

Senior Orangeman Rev Mervyn Gibson said he does not intend to visit any bonfire sites tonight.

“My personal position is there should be no bonfires because it is very hard to control the crowds,” he said.

“Where there are bonfires everything should be done to stay within the regulations.”

Last night health minister and Orangeman Robin Swann urged people to celebrate the Twelfth at home.

“2020 marks the 330th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and under any normal circumstances it should have been a time for celebration and social gatherings,” he said.

“However this year is different, and as the virus still lingers it still presents a threat to all in society, but especially the most vulnerable.

“So I would urge everyone - bands, lodges and supporters - to support the Twelfth at home.”

The call came as tensions continue to rise over a bonfire near Duncairn Gardens in north Belfast.

It is understood it is one of three raised at a special meeting of Belfast City Council earlier this week.

The other two bonfires are in east Belfast.

Sources say material for one bonfire near Holywood Arches was removed yesterday by organisers while another planned pyre in the Pitt Park area has been scaled down.

Earlier this week fire fighters and police attended the Duncairn Gardens site, which is beside a peace line gate separating the predominantly unionist Tigers Bay area from the nationalist New Lodge.

The gateway is also adjacent to a chemist and a business park.

It has been claimed that a van was seen delivering pallets to the area earlier this week during which an interface gate for vehicular access had been opened.

The land on which the bonfire is located is owned by the Department for Infrastructure.

There were reports of clashes in the area earlier this week with some local people claiming they were attacked with bricks and bottles as they walked along the street.

Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency urged members of keep an eye on their alcohol intake in the coming days and maintain social distancing.

The agency's drugs and alcohol lead, Michael Owen said: “Social distancing is essential to prevent further waves of the epidemic.

“You should avoid visiting places whenever there is a chance that large numbers of people will converge and crowds will form.”

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Northern Ireland news