By Jamie Bryson Editor@UnionistVoice.com
There has been significant misrepresentation of events over recent days concerning bonfires in the east Belfast area. It appears a narrative has taken hold that loyalists in the East Belfast Cultural Collective were advocating the burning of tyres; nothing could be further from the truth.
The group has been clear and unambiguous that the objective is to get to a place where there are no tyres on any bonfire, however unlike armchair commentators on social media the EBCC has to deal with the reality of this situation as it is, not how we would ideally like it to be.
It would however only be a fool who would believe that the nationalist coalition on Belfast City Council (SDLP/Alliance/SF) were only interested in tyres. They aren’t eco warriors, they are cultural warriors. The proliferation of tyres provided an excuse, but do not be mistaken, it was only an excuse to advance their ultimate objective which is the total eradication of every vestige of unionist culture.
You only need to look at recent years; every year it is a new bonfire, with a new complaint. Nothing will ever be good enough for those waging war on unionist culture. However despite this, bonfire builders at Avoniel voluntarily took the appropriate and correct decision to remove tyres from their bonfire today. This involved the bonfire builders dismantling their own bonfire in order to remove tyres and neatly stack them away, available for collection by Belfast City Council staff.
Was this good enough? Of course not; now Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance want the entire bonfire demolished by masked contractors, aided by the PSNI. And there lies the real objective; these nationalist agitators are using bonfires as a new battleground and their plan is patently obvious- to use their dominance of Belfast City Council to contrive a confrontation between loyalists and the PSNI in the hope that such a confrontation would descend into disorder. This would allow the further demonisation and criminalisation of the loyalist community.
The onus is now on the PSNI. There is no court order, nor is there any risk to life or property. They do not have to move in to these bonfire sites, indeed they may very well make an assessment that in doing so there would be a far greater risk of a breach of the peace than if they took the sensible approach and refused to be used as political pawns by the Belfast City Council. That is the approach loyalists are urging the PSNI to take.
The nationalist parties in Belfast City Council want the PSNI to be drawn into a confrontation, and for what? To tear down a bonfire that poses no threat, or to remove flags that when all the smoke clears will in all likelihood be replaced ten-fold within an hour. No sensible or strategic person would choose to move in. The PSNI have a duty not to become a de-facto nationalist state police force in Belfast, and many loyalists will be looking to the senior levels of the PSNI to display even handed decision making and indeed to acknowledge the real efforts made by the loyalist community to diffuse what is an extremely tense situation.
No sensible person wants any form of disorder. All loyalists I have spoken to are wholly committed to delivering a peaceful and positive summer of cultural celebration. The only people who will benefit from confrontation are the nationalist political representatives stirring this situation up within a community where they have minimal support, at best.
However, let us be real. The loyalist community have bent over backwards to address any issues. It has been the most peaceful and quiet build-up to bonfires in recent memory. We are walking a very fine line- many in the community did not want tyres and supported their removal. However, I stood at Avoniel this afternoon as streams of elderly men, women and children came to the site and clearly stated that they would never support the wood being taken and promised to stand with the rest of the community to oppose such a regressive action. We are now in a very different situation; this is no longer about tyres but rather a very real stand-off over the legitimacy of unionist cultural expression per se.
Ask yourself why is this all being stirred up now? And then look at who is whipping it all up and trying to force the PSNI into a confrontation- nationalist political parties.
There is now no political support, certainly not from mainstream unionism on Belfast City Council or from the unionist MPs for east and south Belfast, to move into the bonfire sites, given the tyres have been removed. If the PSNI move in then they are moving in to a unionist area with no community or political support for doing so, at the behest of nationalist political parties sitting miles away trying to make political gain out of using their numerical advantage to try and batter the unionist community into the ground.
The East Belfast Cultural Collective representatives on the ground are working around the clock to try and keep the situation calm, however Belfast City Council need to come into the real world and realise that they are overstepping the mark. They could previously hide behind tyres as their excuse, but now the tyres are gone- so the whole unionist community is watching to see whether it was really about tyres and toxic fumes, or whether everyone has been duped by what was little more than a nationalist manoeuvre to advance their real objective; the total eradication of every aspect of unionist culture.
It is time for cool heads and sensible leadership. Loyalists in east Belfast have displayed those qualities over the past 48 hours in the face of relentless provocation. Let us see whether Belfast City Council are genuinely committed to positive solutions or whether, as many of us suspect, it is they who are the wreckers.