Letter to the Editor: Culture of intimidation lives on in the North

Letter to the Editor: Culture of intimidation lives on in the North
A bonfire is lit on Belfast's Lower Newtownards Road as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William's victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Photo: PA

RUC member Billy McCaughey, who killed a Catholic pharmacist in 1977, noted: "I was never expelled from the Orange Order.” 

The author and commentator Susan McKay observed in consequence: “An Orangeman may not marry a Catholic. However, he may, it seems, kill one.” 

How have things changed in the interim?

Belfast City Council continues to indulge loyalists and the Orange Order by permitting the burning of bonfires which not alone pollutes the atmosphere but poisons community relations (Arlene Foster expresses ‘regret’ on sectarian messages on some Twelfth of July bonfires, Irish Examiner, July 12th).

Across unionist areas in towns and cities, hundreds of towering infernos are built, most surmounted with Irish flags, which are then ritually burned. Bizarrely, since 2010 Belfast City Council has financed a scheme whereby those associated with these bonfires can claim £100 if no Irish Tricolours are incinerated.

Loyalists and the Orange Order must not be permitted to dictate local authority policy or intimidate elected public representatives on the issue of bonfires. 

For local authorities to bow to the demands of loyalists is tantamount to permitting the northern state to be governed according to the principles of sectarian rule. 

Neither the nationalist community nor the rule of law should acquiesce to threats and intimidation. Many of these bonfires contain vast imitation funeral pyres adorned with nationalist and republican effigies of people who were voted for, in the main, by Catholics.

We are told that these bonfires are inclusive celebrations of loyalist culture where everyone is welcome and respected. 

This “respect” does not appear to include the thousands who vote for the politicians whose images, names and symbols are consumed in numerous celebratory conflagrations.

Addressing a delegation of Polish MEPs who laid wreaths at the graves of seven Polish airmen in Belfast's Milltown cemetery in 2015, Jerome Mullen, honorary Polish Consul to Northern Ireland, spoke of the heroism of Polish airmen who were killed fighting Nazism in the Second World War and said their heroic contribution was not fully appreciated in the North. 

Regrettably, not alone were these men written out of Northern Ireland's history, but every July 11th massive bonfires across the North adorned with the Irish Tricolour, the Polish national flags and election posters for Polish Assembly candidate Magdelena Wolska, are incinerated as part of the global cultural phenomenon known as the '11th Night'.

Nowhere else in Europe would the annual ceremonial burning of many thousands of the national flag of a peaceful neighbouring state go virtually unremarked upon. 

What if, every Bastille Day, the Union Jack was burned across France, or if on St George's Day the flags of Pakistan, Jamaica, or Nigeria were burned in British cities? 

There would be harsh diplomatic protests and predictable riots in the streets. 

But in the North of Ireland this systematic and deliberate incitement to hatred has been allowed to become an integral part of Protestant unionist culture to such an extent that it hardly draws comment from unionist politicians, Protestant clergy, or indeed the Irish Government who allow this annual affront to their national flag to continue without a word of protest.

Tom Cooper

Irish National Congress,

Pearse St,

Dublin 2

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