Flaming Twelfth as bonfire wreaks havoc on homes

A bonfire in Ballymacash, Lisburn
A bonfire in Ballymacash, Lisburn

And so we move on.

July is half over as is the first half of the year.

We’ve survived the tumult of the Brexit vote, getting a new Prime Minister and breathed a sigh of relief for a relatively trouble-free Twelfth. We should know where we’re going now, except we don’t and the downpours don’t help.

It’s going to take some time to deal with all the changes and I’m not sure our local politicians will be able to keep up with them, given their recent spending habits.

It was certainly the silly season at Stormont when the DUP decided to reinstate marching band funds which had been cut out by Sinn Fein last year. This nonsensical Musical Instruments for Bands (MIB) funding totalling £200,000 is, obviously, coming from the taxes we pay to the government. Grants of up to £5,000 are available, the money distributed through the Arts Council to bands based in Northern Ireland which are formally constituted. That, we can assume, also includes bands within the Nationalist community. Minister for Communities Paul Givan of the DUP was photographed grinning broadly, flute in hand, flanked by bandsmen. No doubt he was delighted to have overturned Sinn Fein’s decision. Of course we know how valuable the Twelfth is to our tourist trade. It’s a big cultural event celebrating our history. But why are scarce resources being used for grant aid for drums, flutes and the like when people here can wait up to three years to get a hip replacement?

In my childhood years Orange bands turned out every year without the aid of grants. They repaired their own drums and banners when they got damaged, cleaned and stored precious sometimesm moth-eaten uniforms and still had funds left to pay for a bus to the field. Those lovely old hand painted drums have been replaced by gaudy, bright specimens with tassles and plastic flowers. Many loyalist bands today look more dressed for an American Mardi Gras than an Orange parade.

Frankly, many of them look gaudy and cheap. Still, they may qualify for a grant. Loyalist bands, of course, are not necessarily part of an Orange Lodge, many of which have their own bands. Each year a number of these loyalist bands will be hired for the Twelfth by Lodges which most likely no longer have a band. Lodges mostly appear dignified and serious as they march. By contrast some bands following behind just can’t help themselves and saunter along doing what my son once described as a ‘bendy walk’.

According to Mr Givan the total amount of money available under MIB is relatively modest but is still a very important funding source for bands. Of course it is. We live in an era when everything has to be grant aided no matter what those of us supplying the funds think. The Minister says the marching bands sector is the largest community arts sector in Northern Ireland with nearly 30,000 people regularly participating in over 600 bands. Bands, he says, also provide structure, discipline and a social outlet for thousands of young people across the province. Do we need that many and will free funding only open the door for more?

The Twelfth is a valuable source of tourist revenue for us. The Loyal Orders always hope for a dignified event but they’re often unfairly tarred with the effects of the pre-events which this year saw two homes destroyed on the Shankill Road after they caught fire from a nearby Eleventh Night bonfire. Two other homes were damaged. Our politicians need to work a bit harder to get the bonfire issue under control. Monstrous bonfires close to housing have no place in the modern Twelfth.