Unionists propose ‘cultural convention’ in response bonfire tensions

Ravenscroft Avenue car park/Bloomfield Walkway bonfire site on Saturday
Ravenscroft Avenue car park/Bloomfield Walkway bonfire site on Saturday

Amid confusion over what action, if any, Belfast City Council will take to enforce a court order which places restriction on four bonfires, two unionist parties have proposed a unionist “cultural convention” for the autumn.

In a statement issued on behalf of the DUP and PUP group leaders on the council, both parties say its aim would be to promote unionist culture, heritage and tradition to ensure “our celebrations continue to be bigger, better and more successful” than ever before.

Councillors Lee Reynolds (DUP) and Billy Hutchinson (PUP) said: “We call upon everyone who identifies with the Twelfth celebrations to ensure that they are as big a success as previous years. The parades and bonfires are about celebrating a momentous victory and a key part of the narrative around our contribution to our national history.”

Unionist councillors have declined to comment on the likely outcome of a High Court injunction – granted to Belfast City Council – preventing more material being brought to four controversial bonfire sites in the east of the city, and banning anyone involved in building the July 11 bonfires from remaining on the sites.

The four bonfires identified on the court order are: Ravenscroft Avenue/Bloomfield walkway; Avoniel Leisure Centre car park; Cregagh Park East and Inverary playing field in Sydenham.

In the statement, the two group leaders claim the increased controversy around the bonfires has been orchestrated by Sinn Fein to deflect from that party’s “strategic failure” – resulting in three Belfast MPs being returned to Westminster.

“In recent weeks there has been a clear strategy to rewrite this narrative and to discredit the celebrations surrounding it. Republicans wish to undo all positive progress such as the growth of Orangefest and the successes of the bonfire programme.

“We must not let our unity of purpose be disrupted or harmed by the actions of those who want to devalue and demean us.”

The statement adds: 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.

“This has also lead to their walking away from the institutions and in doing so, holding all of the citizens or Northern Ireland to ransom and hurting those most in need from all sections of our society. In short, when Sinn Fein finds itself in a predicament it opts for street agitation and this occurs with parades, bonfires and other cultural issues.”

The two parties’ statement goes on to say: “We believe that the best answer to this street agitation, is to deliver our best during this year’s celebrations. This attempt at cultural dictation must not be accepted. Instead, we must work together for a cultural renewal that includes input from the parading organisations, bands, community organisations and bonfire groups.

“Therefore, going forward, we invite those who want the Twelfth celebrations to succeed to come together this autumn for a cultural convention. The aim of this will be 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.”