An illegal loyalist bonfire burned through a sectarian interface into the nationalist New Lodge last night, terrifying residents and provoking further clashes between nationalist youths and the PSNI police.
It was one of dozens of bonfires which were adorned with messages of sectarian hate before being set alight for the entertainment of drunk loyalist mobs.
Anger has increased over the weekend at the failure of politicians and mainstream media to even condemn the bonfires, lit ahead of ‘the Twelfth’, the height of the marching season by the Protestant Orange Order.
One so-called ‘children’s bonfire’ in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey exposed kids to the murderous message ‘KAT’, meaning ‘Kill All Taigs’ (Catholics).
Many pyres made ghoulish references to the recently deceased west Belfast republican Bobby Storey, including a bonfire in the city centre Sandy Row area, where a giant banner carried the message ‘Bobby Storey Burn in Hell’.
Another banner, seen in preparation and destined for a bonfire in the east of the city, carried images of Mr Storey and his funeral with the caption: “Bobby Storey raised in west Belfast, burnt in Loyalist east Belfast.”
PSNI vehicles lined up along North Queen Street for the second day in a row as a sectarian loyalist band parade took place in the area in defiance of the rulings of the Parades Commission. The police were also clearly acting in defence of the illegal bonfire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay along Duncairn Gardens, yards from the homes of nationalists.
Blocked out of their own area, the situation provoked rioting among local youths for a second night. New Lodge residents were then left defenceless as the bonfire ripped through fencing into their estate.
“Can only hope to God a life isn’t lost tonight,” said one. “So depressed this is happening in 2020.”
Loyalist UDA flags and the US Confederate flag, intended as an expression of support for racism, were erected outside a Catholic church in Greencastle, County Down. Pictures also emerged in social media of an ‘anti-Black Lives Matter’ placard at Whitehill bonfire in Bangor, County Down.
Meanwhile, a makeshift effigy with an Irish tricolour flag and ‘Covid-19’ marked on its head was placed on a bonfire in Portadown, but not before it was grotesquely carried about for the entertainment of young children.
Saoradh in Belfast warned of a deliberate attempts being made by loyalists to increase tensions, and urged nationalists and republicans to remain vigilant in the days ahead.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party blamed the rioting in north Belfast on “weeks of political games and tension building”, a reference to the controversy over a perceived breach of Covid-19 restrictions at the funeral of Bobby Storey earlier this month.
“These political games at the highest level have reactions at local level, and what we are seeing here tonight is that reaction,” they said.
They called on politicians and media “to stop stirring up these childish political games and start helping to deliver real socio-economic change for these communities and these young people to help get them out of this constant cycle of violence.”
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly called for calm in the New Lodge area, and described the loyalist bonfire as an act of intimidation.
He said: “The erection of this bonfire - for the first time in eight years - is clearly an orchestrated attempt to intimidate residents and damage long-standing community relations.
“We have met with multiple statutory agencies and community leaders from all sides of the community to warn them of the potential for escalation and to attempt to defuse this situation.”
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said he had filed a complaint with the PSNI over the banners targeting Bobby Storey.
“It is absolutely disgraceful that the Storey family who are grieving the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and brother, are having their hurt compounded by sectarian thugs,” he said.
The North’s Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, called on unionist politicians to do more to confront what she described as “destructive and toxic” bonfires.
“Sectarianism has absolutely no place in our society and must be rooted out,” she added.