Opinion

Will Eleventh Night bonfire builders learn from the Bogside and Féile an Phobail?

The Irish News view: It is possible to move away from the toxic aspects of bonfire culture

There won't be a repeat of last year's controversial August 15 bonfire in Derry's Bogside this year. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
There won't be a repeat of last year's controversial August 15 bonfire in Derry's Bogside this year. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin There won't be a repeat of last year's controversial August 15 bonfire in Derry's Bogside this year. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

In a positive and welcome move, an anti-internment bonfire traditionally erected in Derry's Bogside has been called off.

The Meenan Square bonfire attracted justified criticism last August 15. Shots were allegedly fired, and the structure was bedecked with Union flags, poppy wreaths, an Israeli flag, election posters and images of Queen Elizabeth and a PSNI Land Rover. The episode was investigated by police, who treated it as a hate crime.

It appears that after consulting with residents, the bonfire builders have decided not to go ahead this year.

A Twitter account belonging to the Republican Socialist Youth Movement announced the development, saying that the Bogside Republican Youth has "made the decision not to have their bonfire due to young people from outside the area fighting and causing antisocial behaviour last year".

As SDLP Foyleside councillor Lilian Seenoi Barr pointed out, it represents "a huge step towards eradicating all bonfires" in the area.

"It is clear that Bogside Youth and particularly the bonfire builders have decided to put their community first, focusing on respect and community safety," she added.

It should be noted that republican anti-internment bonfires have all but disappeared. The recognition that these were ultimately counter-productive, acting as a catalyst for violence and raising tensions, led to a rethink in many areas.

Read more:Controversial anti-internment bonfire in Derry's Bogside called off

Read more:Chris Donnelly: The Orange Order can learn from Féile an Phobail

Read more:Jake O'Kane: Can the madness around bonfires and the Twelfth really be called 'culture'?

The most celebrated of these is Féile an Phobail in west Belfast. Since its establishment in 1988, it has grown into an internationally renowned festival – the largest of its kind in Ireland – with a diverse programme of events, speakers and entertainment.

A particular feature of Féile is a willingness to offer a platform to views neither associated with nor necessarily sympathetic to the nationalist and republican communities. Unionist politicians and commentators and Protestant clergy frequently speak to and debate with Féile audiences.

This confident, constructive approach can be contrasted with the scenes that are all too often associated with the Eleventh Night bonfires erected in loyalist and unionist districts and the behaviour linked to many of the Orange Order's Twelfth of July events.

Naked sectarianism, destruction of public property and attacks on paramedics were just some of the last week's lamentable activities.

The apparent race in some loyalist areas to build ever-higher bonfires, with all the inherent danger to life and limb as well as the environment this poses, is also extremely questionable.

As Féile an Phobail has shown, and the Bogside bonfire builders have belatedly realised, there is a better way to empower communities and celebrate cherished traditions. It remains to be seen whether loyalist, unionist and Orange Order leaders have the courage to take the same approach.