Time to phase out all contentious bonfires

There can only be enormous relief that the 50th anniversary of internment without trial was not marked by any form of disturbances across nationalist districts of Belfast.

Only 12 months ago, police officers in riot gear were attacked with bottles and other missiles while assisting contractors in the removal of bonfire material in the Distillery Street area.

Trouble has regularly broken out in similar circumstances over recent years, with anti-social conduct over several days also marring the wider approach to the August 9 period.

Considerable credit is due to the organisers of the Féile an Phobail festival, who coordinated a Sunday night dance night event in Falls Park which was attended by thousands of impeccably behaved young people.

In another commendable move, tickets to the celebration, which were free but had to be reserved in advance, were also offered to youngsters who attended a pop-up Covid-19 vaccination clinic.

It was not a coincidence that fire officials were able to confirm to this newspaper that no call-outs to bonfires in west Belfast were received over the weekend

This was a welcome development after a summer in which serious concerns were expressed about the positioning and increased height of a range of loyalist pyres.

Dozens of onlookers narrowly escaped death when a huge blazing edifice toppled to the ground in Portadown, while a teenager was critically injured after suffering burns to his face and body in an incident at a bonfire at Ballysillan in north Belfast.

There will be disappointment that a controversial republican pyre in Derry's Bogside which has included grossly offensive material and slogans in the recent past looks set to be set alight again this Sunday.

It would have been entirely appropriate if representations from community leaders had resulted in its abandonment but there are at least indications that attempts have been made to limit the disruption which is likely to take place in the neighbourhood.

Negotiations have reportedly taken place behind the scenes, and it seems that material including wooden pallets will be placed at a newly cleared construction site at Lecky Road.

It must be hoped that efforts will be intensified to completely end the practice of staging contentious bonfires in nationalist districts by this time next year.

The success of the Féile an Phobail initiative has demonstrated what can be achieved when the energies of young people are channelled in a strongly positive direction.

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