A Sinn Fein council motion demanding increased powers to seize bonfire material is “red herring” and part of a “cultural supremacy agenda,” loyalist Jamie Bryson has said.
The claim was made in response to a Sinn Fein Belfast City Council motion – proposing that material from all bonfire sites should be removed from both publicly-owned and private land as required.
Unionist councillors branded the proposal “sinister” and a form of “cultural dictation” after it was published on Thursday.
Sinn Fein has called a special meeting of the council for this Wednesday when a vote will be taken on the motion. In a statement accompanying a copy of the proposal, Sinn Fein’s Jim McVeigh said: “Laws are being broken and this council has a duty to act.”
Although the current bonfire tensions are centred on a small number of nationalist ‘anti internment’ events next month, the motion, if passed, could affect the large number of loyalist bonfires.
Loyalist blogger Mr Bryson said: “The so called ‘dissident’ bonfires are a red herring. The security assessment given to the Government after the IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan was that the IRA Army Council remains in existence.
“You would have to be completely insane to believe that those dissident bonfires exist without their approval. They are put there, and being removed, in order to gain leverage for Sinn Fein to attack expressions of unionist culture.”
The council was granted a High Court injunction on July 6 to stop people from accessing four bonfires sites in east Belfast.
Mr Bryson said the ‘confidentially clause’ around the council meeting that authorised that court order must be lifted – and that “all relevant information” must be available ahead of Wednesday’s debate.
Mr Bryson – who spoke out against the injunction on behalf of some of the bonfire builders at the time – said: “The confidentially agreement from the now infamous injunction meeting between party leaders should be overturned and the full council, and the public, should hear who was told what, who supported the injunctions and what evidence was used to support that failed attempt to criminalise unionist cultural expressions.”
Former PSNI assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan has expressed surprise at the council motion.
He told BBC Talkback: “For the last 20 years we have been told the way forward is for community engagement...and now we are told ‘the council will take the powers, force this on them and if they don’t agree we will send the police in and do it by force”.
The full text of the Sinn Fein motion reads: “This council gives permission to our council officers to remove bonfire materials or employ contractors to facilitate the removal of bonfire materials from council sites and other sites, which belong to statutory agencies and those which are in private ownership.”
The DUP and PUP have called for a ‘cultural convention’ to be held in the autumn. In a statement earlier this month they said this was “to ensure that the unionist community can go forward with one voice in promoting our culture, heritage and tradition, as well as to ensure that our celebrations continue to be bigger, better and more successful than ever before”.
They added: “We must not let our unity of purpose be disrupted or harmed by the actions of those who want to devalue and demean us.
“It is our belief that this continued aggression by Sinn Fein and their continuation of a cultural war, is a vain attempt to give their ageing leadership a legacy and to restore their credibility within their own ranks.”
• The Sinn Fein statement: “The decision to call the special council meeting has been taken due to the refusal of the unionist parties to agree to permit the council to remove bonfire materials from all sites.
“These bonfires are a threat to life and to property. No bonfire is a safe bonfire. They are a blight on communities and a magnet for anti-social behaviour.
“Sectarian hate crimes, racist hate crimes, the burning of stolen property, appalling physical and environmental damage occur at these sites, and not only that but the ratepayers of this city have to foot the cost. Laws are being broken and this council has a duty to act.”
Meanwhile, a trade union has urged Belfast councillors to consider the impact on front-line workers of their decisions on dealing with bonfires. Unite’s Jackie Pollock said: “In the past, workers have been exposed to the political fallout over decisions taken by council management over bonfires. These decisions have been made over the heads of workers but have resulted in them being asked to take actions leaving them exposed to criticism and abuse.
“We represent workers from all backgrounds: we stand for the right of workers not to be dragged into the divisive disputes over bonfires.”