Derry youths riot over ‘stolen’ bonfire
A PSNI operation to remove materials gathered to build a bonfire marking the anniversary of internment sparked four nights of riots and disorder in the nationalist Galliagh area of Derry this week.
Trouble initially flared on Thursday evening of last week following the sudden removal of the bonfire material by the PSNI and Housing Executive workers. Up to 100 young people rioted in the Moss Park area after the wood that they had collected over recent weeks was taken away.
Although smaller and fewer in number than the publicly-funded loyalist ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires in July, nationalists in many areas have traditionally built fires to mark the anniversary of internment without trial on August 9, 1971.
While ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires make headlines annually for the violent and sectarian messages they promote, the anti-internment versions generally take place without incident or comment. However, they are politically controversial, as many now associate the issue of interment with the recent jailings of high profile republicans such as Marian Price or Martin Corey.
Therefore, the PSNI has moved increasingly to disrupt and prevent the anti-internment events, provoking allegations of discrimination and political policing.
The Moss Park area of Derry, a particularly deprived nationalist community, was a predictable source of trouble.
One local youth said the annual summertime effort to build the bonfire is ‘all they have’. He said it had taken weeks for those involved to gather up materials for the bonfire which had been ‘taken’ by the PSNI.
Youths vented their frustration over four nights, with over one hundred involved in the trouble at one stage. Disturbances were reported across Galliagh, Moss Park and the Northland Road.
Rioting resumed nightly as roads were blocked with burning barricades, while stones and a small number of petrol bombs were thrown. A blaze at an electricity substation, apparently connected with the disorder, was described as “arson” by the PSNI.
Gary Donnelly of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee said the PSNI’s actions to seize the bonfire materials had “made a bad situation worse” and had achieved nothing.
Local community youth worker Declan Quigley said the youths felt that the materials had been “stolen” and they were “reacting to provocation”. He called on the PSNI to “be more responsible”.
Sinn Fein councillor Elisha MccCallion described those involved as “anti-community elements” and “recreational rioters”. She pointed to the concerns of older residents who she said felt “terrorised” by the trouble.