The Ballymena Times is reporting that loyalist leaders and Unionist political representatives have met to agree a code of conduct for bonfires in the greater Ballymena area.
One Protestant clergyman in the Ballymena area, John F.A. Bond, the Dean of Connor and Rector of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Broughshane,has written to the Grand Lodge of Ireland asking them to “issue a statement to ban all tyres and furniture that are known to emit toxic fumes at bonfires on the 11th evening of July as these are seriously injurious to the health and well-being of people”.
It is certainly a positive step if people are considering the harmful impact upon the local community of toxic fumes produced by the burning of tyres and furniture, and seeking an understanding to end this practice is entirely a productive enterprise.
But it smacks of ignoring the supremacist elephant in the room when it comes to loyalist cultural expression as associated with the 11th Night bonfire tradition and the Marching Season in general, and this can be seen in the erection of a loyalist flag inside the grounds of a Catholic church in nearby Dervock recently, not to mention the annual tensions associated with erection of loyalist flags in mixed and/or predominantly nationalist areas and contentious parade routes.
The most toxic product of the annual practice of the 11th Night bonfire is the poisoning of young minds through the burning of flags and emblems associated with ‘The Other’ communities that reside in the north of Ireland, most prominently those linked with the catholic, nationalist neighbours who share this contested land (the Irish National Flag, election posters, sporting attire associated with nationalists, effigies of Catholic clergy or banners mocking suicide victims or victims of sectarian violence all have appeared on bonfires in recent times.)
Is it not long since past the time that all Unionist political leaders- as well as others in civic unionism, clergy or otherwise- called for an outright ban on the placing of any and all items on bonfires that could send a message of hate to young minds watching the flames burn all assembled on the raging fires? Poisoning the environment is bad and wrong; poisoning young minds is even more so, not least in a society as fractured as our own.