Shocking and repulsive Derry bonfire images a reminder of a past to which we don't want to return

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Mal McCann
Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Mal McCann Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Mal McCann

Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Féin vice-president

RECENT displays of hate on the bonfire in Derry's Bogside have absolutely nothing to do with the celebration of culture.

They have even less to do with people of that community or that city.

The vast majority of republicans and nationalists have long ago turned their backs on the 'tradition' of bonfires.

They realise that just because something is a tradition, that doesn't mean that it is right or that it can't be ended.

Instead, this increasingly vibrant and confident community has embraced the positivity of events such as Féile an Phobail and the Gasyard Féile.

That is an accurate and true reflection of what represents them.

And the success of these events is undeniable.

For the first time ever, there were no bonfires in Belfast on the anniversary of internment this year.

The street disorder, the plastic bullets and the destruction that traditionally marked this time of the year have been replaced by celebration and creativity, by cultural and artistic expression, by inclusion and diversity, by reasoned discussion and mature debate.

Across the north, the number of bonfires in nationalist areas has dramatically declined due to the sterling work of community organisations, by decisive political leadership and by local initiatives to put in place positive community events and interventions.

I want to encourage and build on that work and clearly the success of Féile an Phobail can be a model for other areas.

As well as helping to eradicate the scourge of unregulated bonfires and the destructive, anti-social activities that surround them, Féile is now the biggest community festival in Europe.

That is something we should be proud of. It should be celebrated, encouraged and replicated.

Other areas can and should follow the example of west Belfast.

Communities are ready for that. They do not want the destructive, negative tradition of bonfires.

They want positivity, inclusivity and creativity.

That is why the images from Derry last week were so shocking and repulsive.

They are from a period to which we don't want to return.

Those responsible represent nothing but a tiny, destructive element who terrorise the Bogside as much as they do their unionist neighbours in the Fountain.

That is not what the nationalist/republican community want for their children and their future.

They are as appalled by that as they are by the sight of the Irish national flag and other symbols being burned on Eleventh night bonfires.

They know that hate is hate, wherever it emanates from, and it is wrong.

It needs to be challenged at every turn and all political leaders should stand shoulder to shoulder on this issue.

I hope that one day that is the case, but in the meantime, I and Sinn Féin will continue to support and stand with those communities who are at the forefront of this work and have been so successful in making a real and meaningful difference to the lives and well-being of citizens.