Opinion

Loyalist bonfire culture doesn’t need to be toxic - The Irish News view

Hopes that north Belfast bonfire will move to a new site and ease interface tensions

Wooden pallets being gathered near Mountcollyer Youth Centre in north Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Mountcollyer pallets Wooden pallets being gathered near Mountcollyer Youth Centre in north Belfast (Mal McCann)

It may seem strange to be reporting on developments around the unwelcome phenomenon of loyalist bonfires while we are still in the grip of winter, though maybe not as bizarre as the fact that in north Belfast material is already being gathered for a July 11 pyre.

Dozens of pallets are being stacked on a site close to Mountcollyer Youth Club, adjacent to Alexandra Park in the Limestone Road area.

The location is significant; it is believed to be an alternative site for the Eleventh Night bonfire erected annually at nearby Adam Street, close to the interface of the loyalist Tigers Bay district with the nationalist New Lodge.



This has become increasingly contentious in recent years, leading to outbreaks of sectarian violence, including the throwing of petrol bombs and other missiles.

It is difficult to reconcile that sort of reprehensible activity with the argument, often advanced by loyalists, that the bonfire tradition is a culture worthy of respect.

Calls to move the bonfire elsewhere, and so help calm the situation, have fallen on deaf ears in previous years.

But with pallets now being gathered at a new location and signs that building work may soon be underway in the Adam Street area - there are plans to erect new houses - it looks like July 2024 could finally see the bonfire lit away from the interface.

It is understood that while the UVF and UDA in the area are in support of the change, other loyalists don’t want the bonfire moved.

Bonfires can be a legitimate form of cultural expression; however, that cannot come at the expense of wanton damage to public property and the environment or stoking hostility

Many will regard it as a disgrace that these organisations continue to exercise influence but whatever the inner workings of loyalism and the paramilitaries in the district, it is clear that anything that helps ease tensions and provocation should be welcomed, at least cautiously.

It can’t be the end of the matter, though. Proper statutory regulation and enforcement around bonfires is badly needed. That includes where they are placed, what they are built from and their size.

It needs to be acknowledged that bonfires can be a legitimate form of cultural expression; however, that cannot come at the expense of wanton damage to public property and the environment or stoking hostility.

The Parades Commission has been effective in taking the heat out of the parading disputes which once inflamed every summer; bonfire culture need not be toxic, and a similar body to oversee all aspects of bonfires deserves consideration.