Demands for change as sectarian nightmare continues

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The complete failure of the authorities to tackle rampant hate crimes at loyalist ‘Eleventh’ bonfires has brought demands for forceful action and an end to the lip service which greets the scenes every year.

The burning in effigy of nationalist political leaders, alongside genocidal threats against the Catholic community, were greeted with disbelief and outrage on social media. Nationalists, supposedly promised freedom from sectarian intimidation by the Good Friday Agreement, shared images of the shocking and untrammelled hate online.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, the North’s ‘Justice Minister’, lashed out at what she described as “utterly sick” effigies of Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and herself at the bonfire in Carrickfergus.

It was just one of hundreds of bonfires which carried sectarian threats, slogans and symbolism. Loyalist children and teenagers drink, take drugs and learn sectarian chants at the events.

The annual hatefest brought only a charade of weak condemnation from the DUP and the mealy-mouthed promise of an “investigation” by the PSNI, who said there had been “complaints”. They said it was gathering evidence which it would “review to establish whether offences have been committed”.

There have also been renewed calls for public funding of the bonfires to be brought to an end. An initiative to buy influence with the paramilitary gangs involved in bonfire construction continues with many groups connected to paramilitaries receiving public funds in this manner.

On Tuesday, Sinn Fein councillor Gary McCleave revealed his children asked him why “daddy is on a bonfire”, after one of the Eleventh Night pyres in Belfast featured the politician’s poster.

South Down Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard called it “premeditated, despicable hatred”.

“During the Assembly election campaign a number of our billboards in South Down were damaged as the faces of Michelle & Mary Lou were cut out with a knife. We knew they would probably turn up further down the line.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the public “needs to see action”.

Fire and rescue crews received a total of 203 emergency calls for help as the blazes threatened lives, homes and businesses.

A number of residents and tourists were forced to evacuate an apartment block in Sandy Row in Belfast city centre.

Some residents left their apartments on Monday amid fears about the bonfire, which was built closer to the homes than ever before, despite causing considerable damage in a similar location in 2017.

Footage taken in the area on Monday night showed some residents coming out of their apartments repeatedly to throw water on their windows and apartment as the flames raged on.

Among those affected was an unfortunate woman who had booked a short-term holiday let. Writing on social media, she said she had been asked to move. One South Carolina tourist said it reminded him of the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses in the United States in the 50s and 60s.

The next day, Orange Order grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson absurdly called on the Dublin government to “rebuild relationships” with unionism. He was speaking at the main rally following the Twelfth marches by the organisation, which passed relatively peacefully.

One incident during an anti-Catholic parade in south Belfast which was shared on social media led to added criticism of the PSNI’s inaction. The video shown a mann, apparently a nationalist, emerging from a property along the street and throwing an empty food waste caddy in the direction of the band.

Although it lands harmlessly, oer a dozen loyalist band members then besiege his building and hurl a large wheelie bin through the downstairs window, damaging the home of an uninvolved pensioner.

The video shows the window being smashed despite the presence of two PSNI men. The PSNI subsequently arrested the nationalist protestor but made no effort to detain the band members.

They were then seen to absurdly haul away the wheelie bin in a police van rather than the loyalists who broke the window.

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