Irish Republican News · August 20, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Nationalist bonfires seen as hotspots of dissent
Nationalist bonfires seen as hotspots of dissent

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Thousands attended this years anti-internment bonfires, traditionally held on the feast day of the Assumption, and which have become public displays of nationalist dissatisfaction with the Stormont administration and British rule.

The bonfire in Derry was decorated with both loyalist paramilitary flags and election posters of political parties, including those of Sinn Fein candidate Raymond McCartney, a former republican prisoner who took part in the 1980 hunger strike.

Such images and the anti-social behaviour associated with the pyres have brought comparisons to the much bigger and more numerous ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires organised by loyalist groups.

The Divis fire was not as big as previous years. It is understood there were a total of 15 bonfires across Belfast, but the PSNI said they were quieter than previous years. However, there was an element of violence when the PSNI said they came under pipe bomb attacks near bonfires near Free Derry Corner and in the New Lodge area of Belfast.

Raymond McCartney expressed his disappointment that dialogue had not resolved the situation over the Derry bonfire.

“This situation was dictated by a tiny group of young people who are being exploited by more sinister elements who are clearly determined to act against the wishes of the local community,” he said.

“Unfortunately that failed because people absented themselves from that process or effectively scuppered it by acting as cheerleaders for anti-community behaviour.

“That process was an opportunity lost and we need to see renewed efforts to avoid a repeat of this situation in the future so the local residents can live in peace.”

Independent Councillor, Gary Donnelly, said the Derry bonfire went ahead because of a failure by local politicians and community workers to connect with the young people in the area.

“The only symbolic thing about this is that it’s symbolic of the failure of the politicians of the area, and the community workers in the area to enter into a relationship with these young people,” he said.

“Personally, I don’t see the point in bonfires, but the young people in the area were determined to have one.”

He condemned the actions of the PSNI in which they removed bonfire material. “They broke down the gate, removed some of the wood and left the place unsecured and in a more dangerous state than it had been before that point,” Mr Donnelly said.

A number of residents in the Bogside said they awoke to scenes “like something out of 1969” on Thursday morning.

Residents said police arrived in the Bogside at around 6am on Thursday. One woman said: “It was like something from 1969 to be honest. There were armed officers, jeeps, cameras on top of jeeps. It was far, far too much.

“When I look at these young people here today -- they see not 100 yards from here, a [loyalist] bonfire that is celebrated, that is socially acceptable, that is partly funded, and then they stand now this morning and see armed officers coming in to remove their wood.

“I am no fan of bonfires by any means but I will not encourage the children of this area to accept that discrimination. If it is not the case that all bonfires are stopped then you cannot stop one and allow the other to continue.”

Another woman said: “It was like going back to the 70s -- armed men standing over wee boys. I felt threatened coming out my front door.”

Mr Donnelly said he saw a large number of PSNI officers, members of the Tactical Support Group, heavily harmed, and some carrying rifles, who formed a cordon round where the wood was being stored.

“As I attempted to speak to workers who were removing the items I was told go away or I would be arrested for breach of the peace,” he said.

He concluded: “Whilst they came into this community this morning and drove off, they have left a lot of anger and frustration, not only among the young people, but the among the residents who are not necessarily pro-bonfire.”

“Some young people and one adult have alleged they were man-handled by the police and it has caused a lot of friction in the area. Contrast the attitude here with what happened several hundred yards away in the [loyalist Fountain estate] where the police did not interfere.”

The resulting bonfire was much larger than usual, reportedly a result of suport for the youths against the PSNI’s actions. The new structure had a sign that read: “Yous shouldn’t have taken our wood!”

Mr McCartney said he believed dissident republicans were responsible for the bonfire. “This isn’t an act of defiance, this is a group of young people aided and abetted by other dissident elements in this city,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin also called for a “zero tolerance” towards a nationalist bonfire in the New Lodge area of Belfast.

“Those behind this bonfire, which is a magnet for anti-social behaviour, are sticking two fingers up to local residents,” she said. “These bonfires are unwanted. Would this be tolerated in the leafy suburbs of south Belfast? I don’t think so,” the North Belfast politician said.

© 2016 Irish Republican News