Amid concerns over the negative imagery at some Eleventh Night celebrations, the bonfire policy adopted by one Co Down town could serve as an example to others, an Ulster Unionist councillor has said.
A small number of bonfire organisers, particularly in the Belfast area, have been widely condemned for displaying sectarian material and posing a danger to adjacent property, unlike Rathfriland where residents decided to move their bonfire from its traditional site due to a new housing development nearby.
Councillor Glenn Barr said the community realised there was a need for some fresh thinking around the bonfire – and that the success of the alternative ‘cultural event’ and bonfire beacon could prove worthwhile in areas where bonfires lead to community tension.
“People were talking about what to do next so I met with them and we discussed different options and opportunities, and to see what vision they had,” he said.
“They came up with the plan for a cultural event in Rathfriland so it progressed from them having conversations to us having meetings with council officers and exploring the possibility for funding. The young people then didn’t have a bonfire to work on but this gave them something to work on themselves and to come up with ideas.
“The cultural event consisted of music, pipers, drummers, Highland dancers, as well as bouncy castles, face painting, stilt walkers and other attractions including fireworks.”
Mr Barr said there were no religious barriers preventing any section of the community enjoying the Rathfriland event.
“We even had some tourists from who France arrived. They were passing through but they stopped and really enjoyed themselves. It was all very inclusive and that is the way forward. It was very family orientated and there were people there who had never been to a bonfire before.”
“The feedback has been fantastic. We will be meeting in August to see if anybody has had any negative feedback, and if they have we will try to make it better for next year.”
He added: “My vision now is to, following on from what we’ve done in Rathfriland, try to progress the same idea out around the whole Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon council area.“
DUP leader Arlene Foster has condemned those responsible for placing an effigy of the late Martin McGuinness on a bonfire in Belfast. A black coffin with the face of the former Sinn Fein leader was spotted on the fire in the east of the city on Tuesday.
In an interview with the Impartial Reporter Mrs Foster said what happened was “wrong,” and added: “I do condemn that because it is not the way in which we celebrate our culture. It is wrong and it shouldn’t have happened.”
Mrs Foster’s DUP colleague and South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly used social media to clarify her own position on offensive displays.
In a Twitter message she said: “For anyone trying to read any ambiguity into anything let me be absolutely clear (and I have said this repeatedly) – all terrorism is wrong, that includes associated flags and emblems. Hate crime is wrong and there must be zero tolerance of it. All bonfires and cultural expression, should be done in a respectful way.”