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1 August 2017 Edition

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Unsettling silence from unionism on messages from the bonfires

Unionists burn a huge effigy of ‘the traitor Lundy’ after they leave a Christian religious service

THE FAILURE of those at the very top of the Democratic Unionist Party in particular and the Ulster Unionist Party as well as the Orange Order to show leadership during the Eleventh Night bonfires associated with the Twelfth has been stark and is addressed elsewhere in this issue by Gerry Adams and Declan Kearney.

One of the most tasteless images from this year’s Twelfth ‘celebrations’ was a black coffin bearing the late Martin McGuinness’s portrait on a bonfire in east Belfast that was mocking the death of the Sinn Féin deputy First Minister.

What nationalists and republicans found most unsettling about these displays is the widespread silence of the ‘unionist Establishment’. 

There was not a scintilla of outrage from the DUP, UUP, the Protestant churches or the Orange Order itself over the Eleventh Night bonfires.

The hate-fest of the Eleventh Night bonfires goes ahead unhindered and largely unremarked. Even the mild repudiation by DUP leader Arlene Foster of the insult to her late colleague at the head of the Executive had to be extracted from her belatedly rather than volunteered when it first became news. (And then the News Letter daily shockingly ran an online poll asking: “Was Arlene Foster right to condemn McGuinness bonfire effigy?”)

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 Loyal order members burn an effigy of Lundy in Derry

Every year in Derry, during the Apprentice Boys’ Lundy Day ‘celebrations’, unionists burn a huge effigy of ‘the traitor Lundy’ after they leave a Christian religious service. Given that this act has been carried out in full view of the nationalist residents of the Bogside, then the obvious intimidation of the act rhymes with the bonfire ritual.

Before 1974, the effigy was burned from Walker’s Pillar, which overlooked the city’s Bogside until the IRA blew up the pillar in one its most welcome operations in the city as it destroyed what had become a symbol of unionist and sectarian domination. Now the effigy is burned from a scaffolding in the city centre.

The unionist myopic view of these ‘towering inferno’ bonfires is summed up in the News Letter editorial of Wednesday 12 July. As the sounds of The Sash, The Billy Boys and the notorious Famine Song were echoing in the ears of nationalists around the North and Scotland, the paper was telling us “bonfires are a wonderful ritual”.

The same editorial echoed Orange Order Chief Executive Iain Carlisle’s red herring that his organisation has been “demonised and discriminated against”.

It is a theme championed by Arlene Foster. 

The DUP leader said:

“Bonfires on the Eleventh Night have long been part of the unionist culture. Those who have waged a campaign of demonisation against such celebrations should dial down the rhetoric.”

The leaders of unionism and the Orange Order need to ‘dial up’ their engagement with their followers to eradicate the racism and sectarianism of the bonfires.

Otherwise, the hate messages from the bonfires speak for themselves.

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