Unionists must show leadership on bonfires and the flying of flags

A loyalist bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in Belfast. Police in warned their resources could be stretched from the burning of Eleventh night bonfires. Photo: PA Wire
A loyalist bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in Belfast. Police in warned their resources could be stretched from the burning of Eleventh night bonfires. Photo: PA Wire

The flying of huge numbers of flags in public spaces, especially where people live, is a blight on society.

Their only effect is to make areas physically less attractive and less welcoming, not only to people from other backgrounds, including visitors from outside Northern Ireland, but also to people who otherwise proudly identify with these symbols.

Am 11th night bonfire at Ravenscroft Avenue in Belfast is lit. Photo: PA Wire

Am 11th night bonfire at Ravenscroft Avenue in Belfast is lit. Photo: PA Wire

As a unionist I do not feel more British when I look at a street strewn with hundreds of Union flags. Rather I am reminded that the experience of Britishness here is different from that anywhere else in the UK.

This practice is not an expression of culture, but of the fears and insecurities of a community which feels itself besieged.

For years the local unionist parties, with their mealy-mouthed equivocation on issues like this, have failed to show leadership.

They are too afraid to speak out for fear of losing votes. What is worse, it suits them to exploit people’s insecurities for their own ends.

This tactic clearly paid off for the DUP in the general election. However, unionists should reflect on whether voting for a party like the DUP really serves their long-term interests.

We see from the protest against the flying of flags in shared spaces in south Belfast that the political vacuum left by the local unionist parties is being filled by others like Sinn Fein. But this will not help the situation, only inflame it further.

Unionists need leaders who are not afraid to lead, and who will remove the sources of insecurity rather than cynically exploit them for short-term political gain.

Another issue on which leadership within unionism is badly needed is that of bonfires. It is unacceptable that lives and property are put at risk every year because the law is inadequate.

Once again, it is not an expression of culture when people are forced to be evacuated from their homes, rather of a selfish and reckless disregard for others which brings unionist/loyalist culture into disrepute.

The NI Conservatives should support the introduction of measures for the licensing and regulation of bonfires.

Adam Moore, South Belfast Conservatives