Bonfires & the leadership opportunities they present

If you want to know how the flag protest movement was created, then look no further than Chobham Street in East Belfast.

Today it was announced that the Housing Executive has moved to board up more than 50 family homes in the area as a result of a loyalist bonfire sited near to the properties. It is feared that the homes could be in real danger of being set alight or seriously damaged due to the close proximity of the fire.

When discussing the issue on BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show this morning, a loyalist caller remarked that houses should not be built near the bonfires…..

Mick may lay some of the blame at the door of the palletts, but I lay the blame firmly at the doors of the Unionist politicians and Loyal Order leaders who have failed abysmally to give leadership to grassroots unionist communities.

Listening to the contributions of unionist politicians on the matter on The Nolan Show this morning was revealing.

Danny Kennedy, DRD Minister, was quick to state that legislation to create some order around bonfires was “a non-starter” whilst claiming that “….the Alliance Party….in many ways contributed to all of the community tensions by their actions at Belfast City Hall taking down the Union Flag. That’s what this comes back to.”

So. To be clear. According to UUP Minister, Danny Kennedy, 50 families in an overwhelmingly unionist community being inconvenienced by loyalists seeking to light a bonfire are, in fact, suffering the consequences of a decision by the Alliance Party on Belfast City Council, because there is no history of bonfire-related issues prior to the flag protests commencing in December 2012.

Meanwhile, in Carrickfergus, the Nazi flags may have come down, but they’re still whistlin’ Dixie in spite of the intervention of the local PUP representative, Gareth Cole. Apparently, the loyalist party’s negotiation efforts proved unable to secure the removal of the Confederate Flag. Clearly some loyalists have reacted badly to the decision by legislators in the US state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate Flag from State Capitol buildings in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre.

Alas, young Gareth, who in February 2014 scaled lamp posts in and around Carrickfergus to erect loyalist flags, was able to proudly inform the Newsletter that the Nazi flags will now be burnt atop the bonfire– presumably alongside flags and emblems associated with the Irish nationalist and Catholic community.

Meanwhile, the Orange Order, who organise and run the 12th July celebrations which are inextricably linked to the curtain raising 11th Night Bonfires, remain silent.

As is the case regarding their pursuit of contentious parade routes and defence of the divisive practice of erecting flags in mixed- or even majority nationalist- areas, the Orange Order appear oblivious to their obligations in a fractured society, and to how that abdication of responsibility has left their own community struggling to come to terms with new realities.

But let’s enter into an imaginary world, one in which the political and cultural leaders of unionism actually took seriously their roles as leaders.

Imagine were the local DUP MP, Gavin Robinson, to issue a joint statement with the Grand Master of the Orange Order, Edward Stevenson, calling on loyalists to dismantle the Chobham Street bonfire for the benefit of local residents, and asking the PSNI to intervene in the event of a negative response from the bonfire builders?

Come to think of it, given that the 11th Night bonfires are inextricably linked to the Twelfth parades, wouldn’t it be an unprecedented act of leadership by the Orange Institution were the Grand Master to call for all 11th Night bonfires to be bereft of tyres AND any flags, symbols and emblems of the Other community, and to oppose funding for any bonfires which breach these simple guidelines? A case of seeking to prevent the pollution of both the environment and young minds?


  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Successful mob management is easy to imagine but we’re too fond of creating Frankenstein’s monsters here – let’s imagine Prometheus unbound instead. Now that would be freedom from the tyranny of rage.

  • Dan

    …and imagine if shitstirring Irish Republicans took their responsibilities seriously too and decided to lower tensions and offer a solution to Ardoyne etc. How transformative to the whole situation that would be.

    Nothing worse than the sanctimonious crap Donnelly comes out with.

  • Turgon

    Mr. Donnelly makes a very fair point. Bonfires are a reasonable part of culture but there is more than enough space at the bottom end of the Beersbridge Nature Trail to have a large bonfire: just not a dangerous one like this. Clearly people always want to build the largest bonfire but that is the wrong place for it: it is wholly and indeed criminally irresponsible.

    Unionist politicians should be willing to state that this bonfire is too big and the inconvenience to local people is ridiculous. It is indeed a failure of leadership.

    Schools are out, young people are being daft, loyalist terrorists make normal working class unionists lives less pleasant and Mr. Donnelly, freed from the responsibilities of teaching, sadly legitimately, reminds us of unionism’s failings: it must be summer. Ah well it will be cold, wet and dark again soon.

  • Jane2

    Well, there you have it. Build toxic, dangerous structures that force people out of their homes because Republicans aren’t doing what you want in Ardoyne. And the government, council, and authorities don’t seem to be able to do a thing about it.

    There must be a connection, but I don’t see it.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    ….the Alliance Party….in many ways contributed to all of the community tensions by their actions at Belfast City Hall taking down the Union Flag.

    This is pathetic. Loyalists bonfires have been steadily growing and encroaching upon highways and properties for the past decade at least.

  • barnshee

    Cause and effect- like it or lump it that`s NI for you

    (I do agree with “the sanctimonious crap ” bit “

  • Catcher in the Rye

    …and imagine if shitstirring Irish Republicans took their responsibilities seriously too and decided to lower tensions and offer a solution to Ardoyne etc.

    The whataboutery has started within seconds as usual.

    How does a solution at Ardoyne, or lack thereof, have any bearing on people in East Belfast having to leave their homes ?

  • No1celt

    do unionist politicians ever play back what they spout during their marching season and. in a quiet moment, listen to the recording afterwards? And, having done so, imagine how the rest of the world civilised views them

  • Zeno

    Gotcha Chris, it’s all themums fault.

  • mac tire

    “…shitstirring Irish Republicans took their responsibilities seriously…”

    Carrick Hill! Next!

  • mac tire

    Why? Are you saying it’s Us’uns fault? 🙂

  • the rich get richer

    Maybe some sort of Scholarship in Architecture could be awarded for building a bonfire that does not threaten to burn down houses in the Area.

    Something similar for not burning tyres and for actually recycling recyclable Pallets.

    Scholarships all round methinks. It makes sense in Northern Ireland.

  • Mirrorballman

    Sadly nothing will change with bonfires until some poor soul is burnt or crushed to death by one of these monstrosities. Even then it would probably be blamed on SF anyway…..

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    What a good idea: a constructive solution to replace a destructive (& self-destructive) problem and win/win all round! We could do with imaginative brains to end the zero sum game hamster wheel. Certificate printing is a hell of a lot cheaper than road-resurfacing, replacement windows, massive clean-ups, repairing public & private property, hospital treatment and … possible funerals.

  • sk

    David, when you’re on Slugger at 3am on a Saturday morning, (drunkenly?) suggesting that a section of the community should just die, I think it’s time to re-evaluate your life.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    That’s not the real David Vance.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Not only is a death sadly inevitable, the response is equally so – “you’re just using the death of this child as another way to attack our culture” …

  • Thomas Barber

    “…and imagine if shitstirring Irish Republicans took their
    responsibilities seriously too and decided to lower tensions and offer a
    solution to Ardoyne etc. How transformative to the whole situation that
    would be.”

    There was a compromise, a parade in the morning with none in the evening. Its clear the concept of compromise is lost on loyalism.

  • banana man

    are you sure? its in line with his previous ramblings

  • submariner

    So people are forced to move out of their homes and the tax payer foots a £10000 bill because a bunch of bigots and their terrorist supporting bands cant march past Ardoyne. Flegger logic at its finest

  • Gingray

    Or alliance, they are equally as evil these days

  • Gingray

    Good article Chris, and good points Turgon.

    I’ve mentioned it before, but I think Belfast City Council and many of the bonfire organisers have done a great job this year. The pity for me is that political unionism is playing catchup.

    Bonfire culture stems from a variety of places – pro union British culture, ulster Scots culture, northern irish and irish protestantism religious culture, none of which need to display anti irish or anti Catholic aspects to thrive. Orange culture does however to varying degrees and it’s why we need unionist and protestant leaders to help remove that.

    There is a lot to celebrate without needing to attack the other, but that leadership just is not there at the minute.

  • barnshee

    Sigh __cause and effect no logic needed or involved

  • Catcher in the Rye

    reasonably sure. The real one is a little more subtle (contradiction in terms, I know).

  • 23×7

    Do what is absolutely necessary for public safety but don’t clean the bonfires up afterwards. Simple solution.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    So Dan, IF those pesky meddling Ardoyne republicans stopped protesting at the Ardoyne parade to what extent would the bonfire scene change?
    Would the tyres and effigies disappear?
    Would they no longer be built close to houses, roads or petrol stations?

  • Lorcs1

    Is it possible that a softer Orange Order, one that talks to local communities, refuses to allow bands to play sectarian songs, condemns sectarian behaviour, and calls for dangerous/toxic bonfires to be reduced or moved, could be less palatable to the protestant working classes? Are the Orange Order afraid that implementing such reforms, and making themselves palatable to all communities, could lead to the OO itself becoming insignificant?