by Jamie Bryson
The bonfire tradition is a key aspect of Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist (‘PUL’) cultural expression, with various sites hosting events on or around the 11th July yearly.
This tradition has in recent years become the latest focus of nationalism’s cultural war, designed to eradicate every vestige of PUL culture and expression of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland.
The reason is of course obvious: the purpose of the Belfast Agreement ‘process’ is to incrementally ease Northern Ireland out of the Union. Therefore, a key component of this is to break-down cultural cohesion amongst the PUL community in order to weaken and undermine any resistance to the progression of the ‘process’ towards its pre-determined end-point.
It is of course not enough to simply seek to eradicate the cultural expression, tradition and cohesion of the PUL community, but all such expressions must be demonised, mocked, derided and turned into an underclass.
That is why there is a deliberate and orchestrated mocking and derision towards the PUL culture, particularly the bonfire tradition. It is designed to create a collective community feeling of being an underclass, and to come to accept this fate.
The PUL community have shown remarkable defiance and strength to withstand the decades long cultural war. It started with parades, then moved on to flags and bonfires.
In parallel, the next phase is now about imposing Irish culture and tradition upon the PUL community- such as the demand for enforced Irish language signage in unionist/loyalist areas. This is the phase whereby nationalists shift gears from their ’equality’ agenda (which was only ever a ruse) and move more overtly towards their real objective of securing supremacy.
It has long been a nationalist tactic- as evidenced by the parades commission- to seek to use regulation as a means of securing incremental eradication. That is why we now hear orchestrated calls for regulation of bonfires.
This isn’t about health and safety or any other such reasonable concerns (nationalism showed their concern for PUL health and safety when the IRA were murdering and maiming for three decades), but rather about securing a gradual tightening of a noose around the neck of PUL cultural expression, until such times as it is unrecognisable or eradicated entirely.
There should be no surprise at the orchestrated petrol bomb attacks on cultural expression bonfire sites which exist within PUL areas close to interfaces. The cause is twofold; firstly, it is a manifestation of the depth of hatred and intolerance of PUL culture and tradition which has been deeply embedded across society as an outworking of the Belfast Agreement and nationalism’s cultural war; and secondly there is a deliberate effort to ignite disruption around cultural events, in order that nationalism can point to bonfires and parades as the cause of tension or disruption.
The truth is that the PUL community simply want to celebrate our culture and tradition and to do so peacefully. The tension comes not from the exercising of those basic rights, but rather from the hatred and intolerance of the opposition to even the most peaceful and benign cultural expressions.
As part of this agenda of intolerance, fueled by hatred, all sorts of straw man arguments are constructed. A repeated argument is ‘bonfires breach environmental laws or council bye-laws’. The proponents of this argument spew it out, and then sit back as if they have scored a knock-out blow.
This displays their complete lack of understanding of the scope of the very same Human Rights they purport to be chief defenders of. The first step they should take is to go and read Zeigler in the UKSC.
Laws such as environmental legislation or byelaws (and indeed every statute) must be read so as to be compatible with Convention rights (see Section 3 of the HRA 1998). Therefore, any restriction on Convention rights must not only be proscribed by law but must also be proportionate.
Therefore, in all but the most extreme circumstances, it is difficult to see how some council byelaw or environmental legislation could operate to trump Article 10 or 11 of the ECHR, which are both plainly engaged on the part of those building the cultural bonfires.
Of course, nationalism, and their fellow-travelers in the Alliance, fail to comprehend or accept that PUL cultural expression even attracts ECHR protections. Put simply, unionism/loyalism is deemed to be an underclass whose cultural expression doesn’t meet with the approval of the enlightened elite, and therefore no credibility must be attached to it, let alone the existence of rights accepted.
The PUL community must work to promote the positive aspects of cultural expression, but also be unafraid to stand up for basic rights and lay claim to them. We are not an underclass and will not accept being treated a such.
I would urge all young unionists and loyalists to remain calm and focused on the wider objectives of advancing our cause in the coming days. Do not react to the deliberate provocation, as if you do so then you will have given our enemies and those seeking to demonise our culture precisely what they want.
Keep calm and carry on!