There were confrontations this morning as sectarian parades were forced through Catholic communities following a night in which bonfires were lit to herald the day of loyalist aggression.
The Ardoyne march is one of the more controversial of hundreds of ‘feeder parades’ taking place today, when Protestants ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of a 17th century battle victory over Catholics with coat-trailing events.
Nationalist residents protesting at Ardoyne shops were hemmed in by police as they moved in to control the area before the Orange parade passed through. Directing a huge police deployment was the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, who himself became the focus of protests by residents as they shouted about the force’s involvement in the murder of nationalists.
As the parade passed through, there were shouts of ‘walk of shame’, but no disorder. There was also a protest in west Belfast this morning as another Orange parade passed through a nationalist area at Workman Avenue and the Springfield Road, but again without serious incident.
A second round of parades takes place this evening, although some of the most controversial ‘return’ marches have been rerouted by the Parades Commission, which is tasked with adjudicating on parade routes.
Last night, there were disturbing scenes as ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires were lit. In the most serious incident, a row of terraced houses caught fire close to one of the larger loyalist bonfires in Belfast. Two homes adjacent to the Hopewell Square bonfire in Belfast’s Shankill Road were gutted when a blaze broke out on the roofs of the terrace at around 1am. Other houses were damaged.
At Cluan Place in east Belfast, endangered properties had to be hosed down as it appeared fire was taking hold.
In total, firefighters had to actively intervene at 16 bonfires across the North. As well as Belfast, there were bonfire-related emergencies in Bangor, Coleraine, Banbridge, Rathfriland, Dungannon, Derry City, Portadown, Ballyhalbert and Limavady.
Despite the efforts of politicians to improve their image, there were again countless hate crimes and sectarian incidents at the bonfires, including the burning of election posters and nationalist flags. Many complaints this year centred on the increased use of toxic tyres, as well as the usual proximity of the pyres to homes, businesses and community areas.
While Sinn Fein has supported the grant funding by local councils of bonfires, posters of party councillors again appeared on several, alongside sectarian insults and threats of violence.
Derry councillor Patricia Logue today called for an end to all actions which foster division. “There must be a zero tolerance against all forms of hate crimes, racism, sectarianism, and those who seek to promote sectarian division,” she said.
Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd said that the burning of election posters and Irish tricolours is “unacceptable” and “should be investigated”.
Stolen election posters belonging to himself and party colleague Catherine Seeley were burned on bonfires in Portadown.
“The event as I understand was billed as a children’s fun day,” he said. “It is totally unacceptable that these stolen posters appeared on the bonfire, especially in the context of an event which was supposed to be a children’s fun day, what message does the burning of images of elected representatives send out to children?
“Election material, poster and billboards belonging to all political parties should be treated with respect.
“The posters burnt were stolen during the election campaign and were reported as such. This incident and the burning of posters and flags at the main bonfire later in the evening have been reported to the Police as theft and a hate crime.”