Northern Ireland news

Video : 'Dial down the rhetoric' against bonfires, says Arlene Foster

Windows being boarded up yesterday at properties beside the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire in east Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

Arlene Foster told those "waging campaign of demonisation" against bonfires to "dial down the rhetoric".

The DUP leader released a 650-word statement last night about the Twelfth.

Instead, she said bonfires have "long been part of the unionist culture" and that "those who have waged a campaign of demonisation against such celebrations should dial down the rhetoric".

The former first minister also urged bonfire builders to be "respectful of their neighbours" and "not play into the hands of those who want to demonise the culture".

"Endangering property and lives should not be a concern for residents on the Eleventh Night. These should be events that all the family can enjoy. We will work constructively with communities to achieve this," she said.

Mrs Foster maintained her party's silence over last week's High Court injunction aimed at preventing further material being added to four east Belfast bonfires.

The DUP has come under pressure to clarify their stance on Belfast City Council's legal action, which Sinn Féin insists was backed by all parties.

The UUP has not issued any statements on the bonfire injunction, with party veteran Jim Rodgers claiming he would be breaching the councillors' code of conduct if he spoke about the meeting where it was discussed.

Yesterday UUP Newtownabbey councillor John Scott broke ranks to say he felt "let down" by party colleagues in Belfast after the injunction.

"The Belfast city councillors need to come out and explain to the people of east Belfast why they've done what they've done," he told the BBC's Nolan Show.

He added: "I'm an elected public representative and I believe in speaking my mind.

"I call on the UUP leader Robin Swann to get on to city councillors and tell them to explain what they are doing. And Arlene Foster to get on to her councillors and explain why your party has done what they have done."

Election posters belonging to numerous politicians including Sinn Féin's John Finucane, the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan and Alliance leader Naomi Long were again placed on pyres this year ahead of the Eleventh Night.

Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill urged PSNI chief constable George Hamilton to do more to tackle the burning of election posters and flags on the annual pyres.

"The theft and burning of posters from any party as well as flags, effigies and other symbols is not culture, it is a hate crime," she said.

"I have written to the PSNI chief constable and told him it should be treated as such by the PSNI and appropriate steps taken.

"There is also a responsibility on unionist political parties and the loyal orders to show some leadership on this issue and end this annual display of hate once and for all."

The lead-up to the Eleventh Night have been dominated by controversy over Belfast City Council storing thousands of pallets for bonfire builders at ratepayers' expense.

The Irish News revealed some 2,500 pallets were held for the Walkway site and around 300 for a pyre near a city centre hotel – and were due to be returned before the Eleventh Night.

The pallets held in storage for Walkway were later stolen from a council site, prompting a police probe. It has been suggested the UDA removed the pallets.

An investigation has been launched by the council into its decision to store pallets after some councillors expressed outrage.

Homes and a church were boarded up near several huge bonfire sites yesterday amid concerns around safety and the risk of damage to property.

Fires were lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland to mark the Eleventh Night ahead of today's July 12 parades.

Contractors in Belfast spent most of yesterday morning boarding up windows at a number of the sites, including Ravenscroft Avenue and Cregagh in the east of the city and Lanark Way in the north.

The rear windows of Village Church beside the bonfire at Ravenscroft Avenue car park along Bloomfield Walkway were also covered with plywood.


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