SF Belfast bonfire motion designed to ‘provoke and antagonise’ loyalists

The Avoniel Leisure Centre car park bonfire in east Belfast just before it was lit last month
The Avoniel Leisure Centre car park bonfire in east Belfast just before it was lit last month

A Sinn Fein council motion that could lead to the clearance of bonfire sites is designed to “antagonise and provoke the loyalist community,” a Progressive Unionist councillor has claimed.

Speaking ahead of tonight’s debate at Belfast City Council, Dr John Kyle said the proposal to grant the council powers to remove material – from both publicly-owned and private land – was also “poorly timed and unenforceable”.

PUP East Belfast councillor Dr John Kyle

PUP East Belfast councillor Dr John Kyle

Although the current bonfire tensions are centred on a small number of nationalist ‘anti internment’ events, the motion if passed could impact on the greater number of loyalist bonfires taking place each July.

When details of the motion were made public last week, Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh said: “These bonfires are a threat to life and to property. No bonfire is a safe bonfire.”

Dr Kyle said: “I think that the Sinn Fein proposal is ill thought through, poorly timed and unenforceable. It could conceivably have been timed to coincide to address the August bonfires, but certainly in terms of comprehensively looking at bonfires it is premature and it sends a very negative message to unionists and to unionist communities.

“I think the council has done some great work in regards to bonfires, and the unionist community has done some great stuff in regard to bonfires, creating genuinely family-friendly, community-based events.

The Sinn Fein proposal is ill thought through, poorly timed and unenforceable

PUP councillor John Kyle

“But there clearly are some major issues that need to be addressed and problems that need to be solved. We can’t have bonfires presenting a threat to people’s health and safety or to their homes or properties.

“So those things need to be addressed. There are elements of them in terms of sectarian behaviour that leaves a lot to be desired and we need to work together to address some of those negative aspects.

“But I think the way to do it is to work with the communities – and they have shown themselves to be willing to engage with the statutory bodies – to make bonfires more of a positive celebration on culture.”

The East Belfast councillor described the motion as presented as “far too vague” and “ill-defined”.

He added: “It will just create problems rather than solving them. I also see it as Sinn Fein trying to antagonise and provoke the loyalist community, and I think that is both foolish and counterproductive.

“It is part of their strategy to unsettle unionist communities. What they are doing is reinforcing this tribal, sectarian approach they have had for several months now, which might have served them electorally but has been very damaging to the country and to the reconciliation process.”

Loyalist Jamie Bryson, who last month acted as a spokesman for some east Belfast bonfire organisers, said: “Jim McVeigh let the cat out of the bag when he said ‘no bonfire is a safe bonfire’. It is clear, this motion is designed to target all expressions of unionist culture. This is the next phase, following the failed injunction attempt.”

Belfast City Council was granted a High Court injunction on July 6 to curtail bonfire building at four sites in east Belfast. It is not yet clear whether any legal action will be taken for breaches of the injunction.

Mr Bryson has called for full disclosure of who authorised the court order application.

He said: “I know who supported the injunction. I know who was in the room, I know when they knew and because I know all of this I know that these people, so called unionists, supported the targeting of unionist cultural expression zones and did not even have the decency to inform the unionist community on the ground in east Belfast.

“They sat on the information and joined with the Alliance Party, the SDLP and Sinn Fein in springing this attack on their own community.

“Belfast City Hall is the front line of the war being waged by the ‘progressive’ pan-nationalist coalition of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance. Unionism needs to realise this and realise that it is us against them. Compromise is folly.”

Mr Bryson added: “What we are seeing at Belfast City Hall is an example of the cultural supremacy that we would see in a United Ireland. There is a burning hatred of all things unionist, all things British.”

Earlier this week, Alliance group leader on the council Michael Long told the News Letter that his party was supporting the Sinn Fein motion as it was reinstating the policy that existed until a few weeks ago.

• The text of the council motion proposed by Sinn Fein: ‘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.’