UUP councillor: Bonfires are part of SF culture war and now the party controls Belfast, due to DUP accepting boundary plans

The Roden Street Bonfire. Parading was first in the SF culture war, now it is bonfires, says Richard Holmes
The Roden Street Bonfire. Parading was first in the SF culture war, now it is bonfires, says Richard Holmes

The late Jim Molyneaux and Sinn Fein both had one thing in common – they took the long view.

It’s a strategic approach to ensure delivery across decades for the electoral base.

In the case of the former it was in resisting all attempts to weaken Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, but the latter had a more multi-faceted approach.

The SF/IRA terrorist campaign targeted members of the security forces, economic targets, contractors, cultural symbols, Unionist and Conservative politicians and civilians, not to mention an ethnic cleansing campaign in border areas amongst other elements.

All this whilst their political arm gained ground at the expense of the nationalist SDLP - the ‘Armalite and Ballot Box’ approach.

Since the ceasefires SF/IRA has taken on a more nuanced approach.

Murders and “punishment” beatings still take place as paramilitaries control certain areas; the SF approach in government has been to channel money and resources into their own community, from leisure centres in the likes of Dungiven to Irish language schools whilst state schools are being close or falling down.

There is however been a more sinister aspect to their policy aims as expressed through the culture war.

Parading has been a major focus for 25 years with key choke points on certain parades being a particular area of attention to cause maximum disruption. The latest is bonfires.

This onslaught will continue. And Unionists need to take the long term view to fight it.

Belfast City Council’s decision on bonfires once again exposes the failure of strategic thinking by the DUP over the past decade. But the DUP’s attention has been on eliminating other unionist parties and not on defending unionism.

The reform of local government presented an opportunity to expand Belfast’s Victorian boundaries to follow the move of people as they moved out to the suburbs, such as Newtownabbey, Bangor, Dundonald, Carryduff and Lisburn.

In spite of pleas from the Ulster Unionist Party, the then First Minster Peter Robinson and Environment Minister Arlene Foster ploughed on.

They were happy to adopt the Sinn Fein proposal on Local Government Reform and sacrifice Belfast, the capital city, and set up their DUP bastion of Lisburn and Castlereagh. 

Belfast was surrendered to a green alliance, dominated by Sinn Fein and Alliance. No wonder Sinn Fein are now turning their attention to the harassment of Protestants and unionist culture.

One only has to look to Londonderry to see the out workings of that particular Sinn Fein strategy.

Belfast is a microcosm of Stormont. The lack of a coherent DUP strategy (and not a small amount of incompetence) has now delivered a Unionist minority at Stormont.

Where that will lead Northern Ireland to over the next decade is anyone’s guess, but I doubt it will be to a stronger Union.

Richard Holmes, Ulster Unionist Party, Causeway Coast & Glens Council