Hundreds of loyalist bonfires have gone ahead tonight across the North despite the death of a bonfire builder who fell to his death from one of the pyres.
The death in County Antrim on Saturday night has raised the issue of who is responsible for the bonfires, which have once again become catalysts for sectarian violence.
Clashes erupted at interfaces in both north Belfast and in Portadown, where loyalists threw fireworks and other missiles at nationalists before the Corcraine bonfire was lit.
The bonfires have again been “dressed” with sectarian threats, with ‘KAT’, for ‘Kill All Taigs’ (Kill All Catholics) appearing mostly frequently.
Also placed on the pyres before being lit were a range of stolen election posters and flags representing Ireland, the EU, Palestine and Gaelic sports teams, as well as the Vatican, all symbolically burned.
In the Cregagh in south Belfast, a bonfire carried the message ‘All Taigs are Targets’ and ‘Michelle O’Neill Fenian Slut’, a reference to Sinn Féin’s newly elected First Minister.
Other messages included one in west Belfast which read ‘HF (Highfield) Bonfire - Here to Stay - F*ck SF/IRA - Culture B4 Cash’. It also carried a large election banner of Sinn Féin Councillor Gary McCleave.
Mr McCleave said he was “having to answer questions from my children who came across this on social media why their Daddy is on a bonfire to be burnt. This is not culture, it is a hate crime. Those within political unionism need to show leadership and stand up against this sectarian hatred.”
Loyalists have become emboldened to the point that prominent paramilitary figure Dee Stitt took to social media to taunt nationalists with images of flags celebrating the sectarian murder gangs of the UDA.
With almost complete compliance from the mainstream media, the administrations in Belfast and London have again studiously ignored the annual ‘festival’ of sectarianism that is the ‘Twelfth’.
Following the ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires, the ‘festival’ culminates tomorrow in hundreds of parades and rallies across the North by the anti-Catholic Orange Order.
But the death in Antiville of John Steele, a father of two, could see a lawsuit brought against the local council for negligence in allowing the dangerous construction to go ahead. That could force local government to take greater action in the future.
Steele had been helping to build a relatively small bonfire in Antiville in Larne when he fell to his death on Saturday. It was dismantled on Sunday night by Mid and East Antrim Council, which owns the bonfire site.
Even it was dwarfed by an extremely dangerous attempt to break a record for bonfire construction at nearby Craigyhill, which appeared to fail when the topmost element suddenly came crashing down tonight before it was lit.
Houses had to be boarded up to prevent the inferno setting them ablaze.
Despite serious disasters being narrowly avoided in previous years, safety concerns have again been completely ignored. Sinn Féin councillor James McKeown said he had been contacted by angry local residents over the giant Craigyhill bonfire, but there was nothing he could do.
“I, like other councillors, have been contacted about the health and safety aspect of it,” he said. “Not only for the general public but for the bonfire builders (themselves).”
And despite looking on as the world’s largest hate crime took place for yet another year, there was no sign of any police intervention either.
Colin Harvey, a professor of human rights at QUB, warned that hate was being “mainstreamed” while “weak, cowed, and ineffectual public/statutory bodies watch from a safe distance”.
Political commentator Emma de Souza tweeted that “without political leadership and substantial reform including the prohibition of sectarian hate speech, calls for violence and the burning of flags, effigies, and political posters we risk losing another generation of young loyalists to the pit of sectarianism and hate.”