Opinion

The intolerance and hate linked to the Twelfth must be challenged

The Irish News view: Burning of effigies and flags, and attacks on paramedics and Aontú representative show more needs to be done

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's picture was burned on a bonfire in Moygashel, Co Tyrone
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's picture was burned on a bonfire in Moygashel, Co Tyrone Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's picture was burned on a bonfire in Moygashel, Co Tyrone

We can be thankful that the years when the events surrounding the Orange Order's Twelfth demonstrations were synonymous with widespread disruption, raised tensions and violent flashpoints appear to be largely behind us.

However, there is still a long way to go. There have, for example, been efforts to present some bonfires as community celebrations and expressions of a particular aspect of unionist culture.

But too many remain little more than an excuse for displays of naked sectarianism. It is utterly disgraceful that flags, effigies of nationalist politicians and election posters are burned on Eleventh Night bonfires.

Nor can it be acceptable that public property is routinely destroyed at many bonfire sites or that taxpayers have to pay for the damage.

Bonfires also place a burden on our hard-pressed emergency services. The Ambulance Service said that 11 paramedics were assaulted over the Twelfth, including five who were punched, kicked, bitten and spat at when they attended a bonfire in Carrickfergus.

In Newry, the PSNI are treating as a sectarian hate crime the appalling attack on the home of an Aontú representative. Sharon Loughran, a district nurse who became involved in politics to campaign for Daisy Hill hospital, was woken at 3am on July 12 "to the smell and sound of an inferno beside my house".

Her car was burned out and significant damage caused to her home. It marks a radical escalation of the intimidation Ms Loughran has faced; her home has previously been daubed with UDA graffiti.

Read more:UUP leader slams actions of some in unionist community who "shame us all"

Read more:Why is the Orange Order not demanding the DUP returns to Stormont?

Read more:In pictures: Eleventh Night bonfires

It is, however, important to acknowledge that this week's parades passed off peacefully. The intervention of the Parades Commission, often with significant opposition from unionist politicians, has led to the heat going out of the disputes which once punctuated the marching season. Falling numbers and a rising age profile has also contributed to the loyal orders' presence fading.

This context makes the efforts of the Orange Order, aided by the DUP, to revive the Drumcree parade all the more misguided. It is difficult to understand what motivation lies behind wanting to re-open that particular wound.

This newspaper has often challenged political unionism for its reluctance to firmly and unambiguously condemn trouble linked to the Twelfth.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie's comments - "The actions of some shame us all" - on the burning of flags and effigies and the attacks on paramedics and Ms Loughran are therefore welcome.

"Those who stoke the fires of intolerance and hate must take responsibility for their actions and words," he said.

That is a message that needs to be heard loudly and clearly across the community.