Leading article

Reckless side to loyalist bonfires

There will be considerable relief that the main Orange parades passed off peacefully yesterday and were surrounded by a noticeably low-key mood during all the main demonstrations.

The trends over recent years have been generally in the same direction and it is important to acknowledge the strongly positive contribution which a range of community leaders on both sides of the divide have made in this regard.

A small number of problems remain in place, particularly in relation to the Twaddell loyalist protest camp in north Belfast, but they are all capable of being resolved and the evidence is that tensions are being steadily reduced.

Unfortunately, while the July 12 marches are becoming more relaxed occasions, there are serious matters linked to the preceding overnight gatherings which urgently need to be addressed by the authorities.

While environmental and other even more basic concerns have been taken on board in some areas, there are still places where hard-line elements seem to believe that they can simply ignore the laws of the land.

Despite the clearly expressed fears of neighbours, enormous and unregulated annual bonfires have regularly been built in close proximity to housing developments in Belfast and elsewhere.

Almost inevitably, two family homes were entirely gutted and a third extensively damaged in the early hours of yesterday after burning embers were carried a short distance through the air in the Shankill district of the city.

Although there were thankfully no injuries, an entire residential block narrowly escaped destruction and it is essential that a repetition anywhere is prevented next year.

The other key issue involves the specifically illegal act of burning tyres, which allows toxic fumes to spread across the atmosphere with well documented long-term health consequences.

When the threat by caused by this practice was highlighted by The Irish News, the former Ulster Unionist MLA Adrian Cochrane-Watson last week offered a response which was bizarre even by the prevailing standards.

He suggested that it was this newspaper, rather than the loyalist organisers, which deserved to be blamed for the placing of `maybe 10,000 tyres' on this year's bonfire at the Ballycraigy estate in Antrim town.

It should be obvious that the reckless construction of such towering infernos, which are typically festooned with crude posters carrying racist and sectarian slogans, can no longer be tolerated.

Councils have already provided grants to support the use of properly designed and supervised pyres, which observe reasonable safety considerations and encourage celebrations to proceed almost entirely without risk.

Those who prefer to behave in a reckless and unacceptable way, whether they are from a loyalist or a nationalist background, must expect to find that existing legislation is firmly enforced and if necessary comprehensively strengthened in the coming months.

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