Image of Martin McGuinness attached to ‘Twelfth of July’ bonfire
Fires will be lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland on Tuesday night
An effigy of former Sinn Fein Martin McGuinness was attached to a bonfire in east Belfast ahead of the key date in the protestant loyal order marching season - the Twelfth of July. Photograph: PA Wire
Twelfth of July bonfire: a loyalist climbs the Conway Street bonfire in Belfast. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Twelfth of July bonfire: a loyalist bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in Belfast. Photograph: PA Wire
A black coffin with an image of the late Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness has been attached to a bonfire near the Castlereagh Road in east Belfast as loyalists prepare to mark the Twelfth of July.
Homes have been boarded up near a number of bonfire sites across Northern Ireland amid concerns about safety and risks to property ahead of the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.
The traditional Eleventh Night fires mark the start of commemorations of the victory of the Protestant king William of Orange over the Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne, in 1690.
The towering bonfires, most built with stacks of wooden pallets, will draw thousands of onlookers, but they are often the source of controversy. This year Belfast City Council has secured a court order to prevent further construction on four bonfires in the east of the city. Masked loyalists appeared to defy that order at one of the sites on Monday.
Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill called for an end to what she described as an “annual display of hate”.
“Once again, we have witnessed bonfires across the North being festooned with stolen Sinn Féin election posters, Irish national flags and other emblems,” she said.
“The theft and burning of posters from any party as well as flags, effigies and other symbols is not culture, it is a hate crime.”
John Finuance, who ran for Sinn Féin in the Westminster elections, has reported the hanging of his election posters on an ’Eleventh Night’ bonfire to the PSNI as a hate crime. Police are also investigating a racist banner referencing Celtic striker Scott Sinclair hung on another bonfire in the east of the city.
A PSNI spokeswoman said the force takes hate crime “very seriously and actively investigate all incidents reported to us”.
“Hate crime is wrong on all levels and the PSNI will do everything it can to ensure that everyone, from whatever background, can live free from prejudice, fear and discrimination.”
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster claimed there was a campaign to “demonise” the bonfires. “Bonfires on the Eleventh Night have long been part of the unionist culture,” she said.
“Those who have waged a campaign of demonisation against such celebrations should dial down the rhetoric. To those who build bonfires, I urge them to not play into the hands of those who want to demonise the culture. They should be respectful of their neighbours,” she said.
“Endangering property and lives should not be a concern for residents on the Eleventh Night. These should be events that all the family can enjoy. We will work constructively with communities to achieve this.”
Mrs Foster said she wants Northern Ireland to move forward to a place where the Orange culture is supported and respected by all.
Contractors in Belfast spent most of Tuesday morning boarding up windows at a number of the sites, including Ravenscroft Avenue and Cregagh, in the east of the city, and Lanark Way, in the north.
Last year a number of terraced homes next to the Hopewell Square bonfire, on Shankill Road in Belfast, were badly damaged when a blaze broke out on the roofs. It was caused by hot embers blown on the wind.
One of the biggest bonfires ignited prematurely, with firefighters working through the early hours of Tuesday to extinguish the blaze in Carrickfergus.
Although the vast majority of the almost 600 Protestant loyal order parades on the Twelfth are free of trouble each year, the threat of disorder at a small number of flashpoints always has the potential to mar the day.
There is cautious optimism that this year’s Twelfth will pass off without major incident. Orangemen and nationalist residents at the most contentious parade, at Woodvale/Ardoyne, in north Belfast, have struck a deal that aims to reduce tensions in the area on Wednesday.