Leading article

No justification for bonfires that could lead to public health breaches

The Orange Order is correct to say that this will be a Twelfth like no other, with public health concerns rightly taking precedence over all other considerations.

To its credit, the order issued early and clear advice to its members on this year's marching season, cancelling parades and gatherings and instead urging people to celebrate their culture at home.

Even as lockdown restrictions have eased, this guidance still pertains. It is important that everyone follows the regulations which are in place to protect us all.

However, there are signs that some elements are prepared to push the advice to the limit, particularly around bonfires which have long been a source of contention at this time of year.

In recent weeks we have seen bonfire materials gathered at several sites in Belfast, Larne and Antrim, even before the furore over Bobby Storey's funeral.

Following the row over social distancing and adherence to public health regulations in west Belfast last week, it was inevitable that some would try to use anger over the Sinn Féin leadership's actions for their own purposes.

On Friday, the East Belfast Cultural Collective (EBCC) said communities are now permitted to collect material, citing the funeral of Mr Storey as justification. The statement added: ''Everyone is asked to be ready to defend our bonfires.''

Meanwhile, there were reports of additional bonfire material appearing on several sites around Belfast over the weekend.

However, senior unionist politicians and Orange Order figures, as well as the Action for Community Transformation (ACT) have made it clear this is not the right approach and people need to stick to marking the Twelfth at home.

First minister Arlene Foster warned that Covid-19 is still a threat and urged people to follow the public health advice.

In what appeared to be a toning down of the initial stance, a further statement from the EBCC said bonfires should be 'small and localised.'

In reality, there should not be any bonfires or band parades that could attract large crowds or lead to breaches of the pandemic regulations.

This is a time for leadership and a sense of responsibility to ensure that the Twelfth does not create the conditions that could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Leading article