In response to issues over bonfires in east Belfast over the past few years a new group has been set up in the area to defend “the positive celebration of unionist culture”.
The East Belfast Cultural Collective (EBCC), which was launched today, said it will act as advocates for bonfires which it claims statutory agencies are trying to criminalise.
Last summer Eleventh Night bonfires were removed at Bloomfield Walkway and Cluan Place following legal proceeding brought by Belfast City Council.
The collective will come under the umbrella of the East Belfast Community Initiative and speak up on behalf of the 13 bonfires in the east Belfast and Ards/North Down area who have joined the collective.
A spokesperson for the EBCC said: “There are often concerns that statutory agencies try to criminalise bonfires and/or isolate groups. The objective of the collective is to provide one strategic voice for all the bonfires under the umbrella.
“Statutory agencies will no longer be able to hold closed doors discussions with different bonfires and representatives. All communications from statutory agencies regarding bonfires will have to be streamlined via the collective group.”
The spokesperson added: “In 2018 east Belfast loyalists worked incredibly hard on bonfires and flags issues. We feel this hard work was betrayed by the way in which the bonfire situation was dealt with.
“It is important to note that the independent mediators report praised the work of loyalists in seeking to defuse tensions. This went largely unnoticed and statutory agencies escaped the type of robust scrutiny which should have been placed upon their actions.
“All of the bonfire groups who have joined the collective have reaffirmed their commitment to the positive celebration of unionist culture and indeed the broader principles of transitional work within loyalism which seeks to enhance the capacity of our community and to provide a pathway for ex-combatants and others to engage in positive and purely lawful community activism alongside the continued promotion of our cultural identity.”
The East Belfast Community Initiative also confirmed that the flag protocol announced in 2018 would remain in place for the coming year.
The protocol includes a commitment to flying only legal flags and a clearly defined time-frame for the erection and removal of flags.