The July 12 celebrations in Northern Ireland have been described by police as “one of the safest and most peaceful in recent memory”. That is the good news. It should be noted that nearly 600 Orange Order parades were held across Northern Ireland in the past week, the vast majority of which passed without incident.
However, 15 bonfires – out of around 250 across the North – have been criticized for burning posters, emblems and effigy of the likes of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, Vice President Michelle O’Neill and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long.
Ms Long, a respected politician of all traditions in Northern Ireland, has described such incidents as “superminating hatred and sectarianism” being passed on to the next generation, and it is difficult to disagree with that assessment.
However, for most people in Northern Ireland, the Twelfth is not the ‘Hate Festival’ that some have described, but a celebration of Protestant and Unionist culture and traditions. In fact, as we report today, there is also criticism within this community of the minority bonfires, mainly in urban areas, which were widely condemned last week.
Rev. Mervyn Gibson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, said the burning of placards and people’s effigy should be treated as a hate crime. He also said the Irish flag should not be burned on bonfires, but wasn’t sure if that constituted a hate crime.
In this newspaper today, columnists Joe Brolly and Máiría Cahill focus on the issue. Brolly is scathingly critical, noting that hard-nosed union politicians failed to condemn the campfire activities last week. He explains that actions like those seen at some campfires must be called. “Instead of addressing the problem honestly and decisively, it has been allowed to degenerate into a dystopia where it’s perfectly normal to paint children’s faces ‘Kill all Catholics,'” he writes.
Cahill urges a sense of proportion, making a clear distinction between culture and intolerance, and pointing to certain sectarian chants and slogans at nationalist and republican events over the years. She is right about that.
Today we also remember how in 2016 the Orange Order in Fermanagh jointly organized a lecture on the Easter Rising to promote “a greater understanding” of 1916.
At the time, a representative from Sinn Féin spoke at the event and congratulated “the Orange Order and the Protestant section of our community” for organizing the discussion.
There is a reasonable view within the Protestant community that events such as these represent the way forward to building an inclusive, equal, agreed and shared future in Northern Ireland.
This approach must be reciprocated by nationalists commemorating events on the Republican calendar.
Meanwhile, proposals to draft a campfire code of conduct to root out sectarianism seem like a sensible and overdue idea.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/editorial/lets-build-a-shared-equal-and-agreed-future-41845251.html Let’s build a common, equal and agreed future