Another 12th July passes peacefully, but other conversations are still needed.

Another 12th July passes and for the second year in a row it has been peaceful. The PSNI have issued this statement on the events of the day;

“We have dealt with a number of minor incidents throughout the day and have made a small number of arrests but these were very much in the margins of what has been widely described as the most peaceful Twelfth of July for some years and a model for years to come.

“It has been a busy day for police officers who were out and about keeping people safe and I would like to place on record my appreciation of the work they have done and acknowledge the hard work of our partners and those within local communities who have contributed to making this a day people were able to enjoy.”

Former flash points such as North Belfast were quiet again this year as no trouble was reported.  We seem to have  made major progress as a society over how we deal with the parading issue.

Now we need to turn out attention and have deeper quality conversations about the 11th night bonfires. This year has shown the folly of rapid fire responses to deal with some contentious areas.  We saw again in some places damage risks to homes as the fire service attempt to deal with an impossible problem. There is also the issue of burning of election posters of parties from Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance, along with the burning of effigies, a particularly distasteful one of the late Martin McGuinness sums up the attitude of sections involved in this.

I think a debate about inclusive bonfires is fundamentally misguided. Loyalists will have bonfires that Nationalists will have no interest in attending and that is not where this debate needs to go. What we need is a priority around public safety and stripped away some of the nastier aspects of this tradition, that has to be a part of the conversation we need to have & it needs to start tomorrow.

Debates around how we regulate and enforce these regulations have to begin. This will be difficult, but go back 20 years and it looked like parading issues in places like North Belfast and Portadown would never be solved and here we are today.  That required political leadership and a general recognition of mutual interest in tackling these problems. Those same qualities are needed today. It is not in the interests of Unionism/Loyalism for the current situation to be allowed to continue in perpetuity.

In essence, how do we emphasise and replicate events like this around Northern Ireland? That should be the focus of the conversation that need to start here.  We have done it with the 12th July, we can do it with the 11th night too.

 

 

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs