Northern Ireland news

Twelfth of July: Crowds gather as bonfires lit amid coronavirus restrictions

 Fire fighters dampen down a nearby building at an 11th night Bonfire at Duncairn Gardens, Belfast, as bonfires were set to be lit at midnight, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William's victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Rebecca Black and David Young, PA

Bonfires have been lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland as the annual July tradition took place amid coronavirus restrictions.

While there were fewer fires than usual, significant crowds did gather at several of the bonfires that went ahead.

In north Belfast, there was a second night of sporadic disorder close to a community interface as police came under attack from petrol bombers in the nationalist New Lodge close to a bonfire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area.

Ahead of the Eleventh Night fires, politicians and community leaders had urged people to avoid mass gatherings and stick to Covid-19 regulations that limit outdoor gatherings to no more than 30 people.

Crowds well in excess of 30 were witnessed at a number of fires that were lit late on Saturday night.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said crews responded to 24 bonfire related incidents between 6pm on Saturday and 1am on Sunday – a 29.5% decrease compared to 2019.

 A woman cycles past a bonfire on the Newtownards Road in Belfast as preparations are underway for the July 11th loyalist bonfires despite disagreement over whether they should take place during the coronavirus pandemic.

The spokesman added that no attacks on personnel or appliances were reported.

Bonfires are torched in loyalist communities across the region every July 11 to usher in the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season, the Twelfth of July.

While the majority pass off without incident, some are the source of community tension, with authorities previously having intervened to remove towering pyres on health and safety grounds.

Many of the fires were cancelled during the Covid-19 lockdown, with a number of sites cleared of wood by the local authorities.

However, the recent easing of restrictions in Northern Ireland led to some reversing the decision to cancel.

Some bonfire builders also appear to have been motivated amid loyalist anger over a controversy that saw hundreds of republicans acting in alleged variance with the regulations to gather in west Belfast last month for the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey.

The Orange Order has cancelled its plans for traditional mass Twelfth of July parades and demonstrations, which were scheduled to take place on Monday July 13th due to the fact the 12th falls on a Sunday.

Some loyalist bands are planning to take part in localised events in Monday, urging people to stay in their homes while they parade past.


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