Mega Bonfires, or how a society can go off the rails where there’s no civil authority

In general, it seems the Twelfth passed off fairly peacefully today. Last night, not so much. I was on the Last Word earlier this evening with Matt Cooper and Sinn Fein Senator Padraig Mac Lochlainn talking about NI’s core failures:

Without wishing to jump on to the tribalistic bandwagon that’s displaced real politics in Northern Ireland, Belfast last night was a perfect picture of how a society goes off the rails when there is no civil authority to keep order in the state.

For example, there’s a bonfire that’s supposedly built by and for the loyalist community in Sandy Row in south Belfast. In fact it’s built on wasteground right on the edge of Great Victoria Street: a district once known as “the golden mile” in the bad old 1980s when the town was going to hell in a handcart.

Now, think Dublin? What would happen if someone (whether citing their traditional rights and entitlements, or not) had been allowed to do such a thing on the edge of Harcourt Street or in a piece of land in St Stephens Green. Hard to imagine?

Some or several institutions of the Irish state would step in and set some grown up parameters for what’s proportionate and what’s not. And expect them to be adhered to.

But in Northern Ireland almost every policy issue comes down to some class of intractable territorial issue, be it housing, language, infrastructure, culture or jobs.

Politics, or the lack of them, drives these issues.

The two dominant parties, DUP and Sinn Fein, continuously put the rights of their own tribes above the rights of everyone else.

The result is a collapse of civil authority, leaving the police and the fire service hopelessly undefended against vicious physical and unreasonable political attacks.

As for broader civic nationalism, there is now no political institution above Belfast City Council where it can make its voice heard. There’s no arena for hammering out proportionate fixes and compromises.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty