The discriminatory nature of the Stormont authorities’ approach to bonfires was laid bare last weekend as nationalist areas were flooded with riot PSNI police in order to remove small amounts of materials ahead of relatively tiny nationalist events, while a giant pyre saw loyalists cheer the sectarian burning of Irish flags and symbols.
There were disturbances in the Lower Falls area of Belfast on Saturday after hundreds of Crown Forces descended on the republican Distillery Street area (top right). In a highly sinister scene, a pincer movement of militarised riot police forced residents away from the small amount of bonfire materials gathered there, mirroring a similar invasion of the Divis area on Friday.
The actions again appeared intended to cause maximum offence and provoke a response, which it did in the form of spontaneous stone-throwing, before a fire was lit. The 32 County Sovereignty Committee hit out at the PSNI after it claimed those involved were carrying out “premeditated” attacks which had caused multiple injuries to their members.
“We would like to know how they came to this conclusion giving that the operation they launched on the Lower Falls this week was not known about beforehand,” they said.
“The only thing premeditated was the heavy siege of a Republican area by British Crown Forces and the bitter attack on locals living there.
“The injuries, if there were indeed any, to these British forces, were a direct result of local residents defending themselves from a clearly orchestrated, over the top and vicious assault perpetrated by scores of heavily clad riot police.”
Meanwhile, a giant loyalist bonfire in Tullyally outside Derry (pictured, left) saw Irish and republican socialist flags burned in a message of sectarian hate without any hindrance or interference by the authorities. Last year, the same bonfire burned a poster of the late Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness, again without any official response.
The police actions in west Belfast also stood in shocking contrast with their failure to tackle a dangerous loyalist bonfire last month which threatened to set fire to buildings along the Duncairn Gardens peace-line in north Belfast. At the time, the PSNI blamed their failure to act on a gate which they said had simply been welded closed.
Sinn Féin have again decided not to comment on the bonfire issue, but the 32CSM condemned the “double standard” of bonfire policing in comparison to other areas “that clearly demonstrate sectarian and racist hatred with a well funded festival of sheer bigotry and triumphalism which lasts for months”.
“We again reiterate that political policing is alive and well in occupied Ireland, the two tier system of past decades remains the same with the PSNI as it did with their predecessors in the RUC and the RIC before them, a British police force is a British police force.”
The Irish Republican Socialist Party also hit out at what it said were attempts by the PSNI to goad and provoke youths in the New Lodge in separate bonfire-related incidents.
After a major incident over a bonfire in the New Lodge last year, youths in the deprived area decided not to proceed with an event this year, and all wood was removed. Nevertheless, the PSNI have been seen to be antagonising youths in the estate by blasting out insults and provocative tunes from the loudspeaker systems of their armoured vehicles, in the apparent hope of drawing out a response and making further arrests.
“These people need to get of the backs of our communities and stop trying to drag us back to the past,” the IRSP said. “We demand that they leave our kids alone and go home.”