Republican bonfire tensions decline

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There were no significant bonfires to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment in west Belfast this year, although a confrontation with PSNI police in Dungannon, County Tyrone led to a night of trouble there.

The disturbances last Saturday night, 7 August in Dungannon were believed to be linked to a small anti-internment bonfire. A petrol bomb and other missiles were thrown at PSNI vehicles as a road was blocked by a pile of burning furniture.

Nationalist political groups have been trying to discourage bonfires for years as they can mimic the sectarian and anti-social behaviour seen at the much larger and more dangerous loyalist versions in July.

The absence of a bonfire by republican youths in Belfast this year has been attributed to the popularity of free events such as the ‘diversionary’ gigs organised by the West Belfast Festival, Feile an Phobail.

However, a bonfire looks set to go ahead in Derry’s Bogside this Sunday, on a traditional nationalist bonfire date, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The gathering of material for the bonfire has been low-key in recent days and efforts have been made to reduce problems in the Bogside area. It is understood extensive negotiations have taken place with republican youths and local community groups.

Independent councillor, Paul Gallagher who chairs Derry and Strabane council’s bonfire committee, said a lot of work has been done to limit disruption.

“I believe young people have been engaging with community workers and that process is being seen to work. However, it is very important that no-one, either in the political or statutory sectors, does or says anything that could raise tensions in the days leading up to the bonfire. These things are always very finely balanced,” Mr Gallagher said.

Fellow independent councillor, Gary Donnelly said that while he believed there was “nothing positive” about bonfires, it was a fact of life that they did take place. Mr Donnelly said it was important that the Bogside bonfire organisers continued to work with community leaders.

“If bonfires are going to take place, it’s best that every effort is made to minimise the impact on the local area,” Mr Donnelly said.

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