21 August 2008 Edition
Lisburn Council involved in sectarian display
The Equality Commission is to launch yet another probe into Lisburn Borough council. The action follows the involvement of Mayor Ronnie Crawford in the ritual burning of an image of fellow Lisburn councillor Paul Butler.
The incident took place during the lighting of an Eleventh Night beacon in Stoneyford. The Mayor, a member of the DUP, helped ignite the beacon despite the fact that it was emblazoned with a poster of the local Sinn Féin councillor.
The ritual sectarian burning of Catholic effigies, such as the Pope, and the images of prominent Catholic politicians has been an enduring feature of Eleventh Night bonfires. In the past the display of ritual anti Catholic hostility has often been accompanied by actual sectarian violence.
The public burning of the image of the Sinn Féin politician has particular significance in a village in which anti Catholic violence and intimidation has already forced a number of families to flee from their homes in recent years. The most recent Catholic family to be targeted by local loyalists left the village just weeks ago
The public display of hostility towards any elected representative is deplorable but when the politician targeted has been in the vanguard of challenging sectarian intimidation in the village, it is utterly despicable.
Unfortunately Lisburn council has a long history of sectarian discrimination and at one time the threat of violence faced by local Sinn Féin elected representative was so great that the party’s councillors could only attend meetings at Lisburn Council by travelling in an armoured vehicle and wearing bullet proof vests.
It is against this background that the current DUP Mayor Ronnie Crawford felt it was appropriate to be involved in burning the image of Sinn Féin councillor Paul Butler.
Earlier this week, Paul Butler lodged a formal complaint with the Equality Commission. The councillor told the commission that he believed Lisburn Council had broken their own policies by failing to promote equality and good relations.
“I was shocked to learn that the Mayor had helped to light an Eleventh Night beacon with one of my election posters on top,’ said Butler.
“It’s disgraceful that the Mayor associated himself with an event like this in a place where Catholics are being forced out of their homes because of a sustained campaign of sectarian intimidation. There is an obligation on Lisburn Council and the Mayor to promote good relations and not damage community relations,’ said the councillor.
A report compiled by Lisburn Council officials last year urges councillors not to get involved in the Stoneyford event. The ruling followed inflammatory speeches made by some unionist speakers attending a similar event in 2007.
In direct contravention of the advice, Ronnie Crawford not only attended the Stoneyford event but took part in the burning of a fellow councillor’s image to the cheering crowd of around 300 loyalists.
The willingness of unionist politicians to endorse this kind of scurrilous activity not only damages their own reputations but also that of the Orange Order.
Eleventh Night activities are often more overtly sectarian than accompanying Orange Order marches a few hours later. But nothing gives greater lie to the Order’s recent attempt to re brand the Twelfth as an ‘Orange Fest’.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Orange Grand Lodge has dismissed as ‘the view of one person’ a call for the Order to drop its 200 year ban on Orangemen attending any Catholic service, including funerals and weddings.
The challenge emerged in an article in a newsletter of a lodge situated in the 26 Counties. The article argued that Ireland could no longer be described as ‘priest ridden’ and the separation of church and state in the south allowed a revised approach.
But even this modest proposal appears to have fallen on stoney ground. Not surprisingly given that the current Orange Order leader Robert Saulters once labelled British PM Tony Blair, a ‘traitor’ for marrying a Catholic and serving communion in a Catholic Church.
In contrast the Orange Order often demands a great deal of ‘toleration’, not least the annual subsidy paid by ordinary citizens to facilitate unwanted Orange parades through nationalist areas. Belfast taxpayers learnt this week that the Order’s decision to march along the disputed Springfield Road cost 150,000 pounds, which works out at about 3,000 per Orangeman.