Northern Ireland news

Loyalist bonfires return as Covid-19 lockdown eases

A bonfire being built near the Grove playing fields in north Belfast
Brendan Hughes

Bonfire builders are returning to sites to construct Eleventh Night pyres as Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease.

Annual July 11 bonfires had been largely cancelled due to the pandemic, with collections of materials mostly stopping in March when lockdown began.

However, some loyalist bonfire builders are now resuming construction.

Pallets have been stacked in north Belfast at a site close to Grove playing fields, which has been the scene of sectarian intimidation in recent weeks.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: New one-metre guideline came into force on Monday

Organisers of the notorious Ballycraigy bonfire in Antrim have also resumed collecting wooden pallets.

In Larne, a community group plans to start building a bonfire using 2,000 pallets in the Craigyhill estate.

Craigyhill Community Development Group said that before the pandemic escalated, it had pre-ordered the pallets from a local company.

It claimed in a Facebook post that it had spoken to police and fire crews and they were "both happy for this to go ahead".

The PSNI and fire service denied this.

Pallets being collected at a bonfire site in Ballycraigy estate, Antrim

Superintendent Darrin Jones said their only discussions have been to schedule a meeting for last night, while the fire service said it has had no engagement with the community group about the bonfire.

Meanwhile, the Orange Order has reiterated its position that Twelfth of July parades will not take place this year.

Its parades, due at 17 locations across Northern Ireland and also in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, were formally cancelled back in April.

However, the Parades Commission has said it is receiving more notifications for band parades around the Twelfth.

It follows a relaxation of restrictions, which now allow up to 30 people to meet outdoors while social distancing.

The Twelfth of July parade in Belfast last year. Picture by Hugh Russell

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland said its position has not changed.

"Medical advice is clear. The risk from coronavirus is still a very real and present danger to our community," a spokesman said.

"Coronavirus spreads through crowds and therefore anything that brings large crowds onto the street should not take place at this time.

"Instead, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has actively been promoting its 'Twelfth at Home' campaign offering alternative ways to celebrate."

He said several bands seeking to parade have "rightly asked members of the public not to follow them" and have "encouraged a 'stay at home' message with the band bringing music to them".

The Orange Order said it will be meeting with the chief medical officer Michael McBride to discuss holding parades later in the year.

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