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Let's work to settle all Twelfth issues

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 13/07/2016

Firemen at the scene of the 'Eleventh Night' bonfire in the Lower Shankill Estate in west Belfast where several house caught fire from embers
Firemen at the scene of the 'Eleventh Night' bonfire in the Lower Shankill Estate in west Belfast where several house caught fire from embers

The incident in the lower Shankill area of Belfast where two homes were destroyed and a third damaged demonstrates that the issues of the siting, size and content of bonfires needs to be addressed and addressed urgently.

The destruction of the properties was bad enough, but the occupants of the houses could have been burned to death but for the prompt action of neighbours.

One of those affected was a 72-year-old woman who has lived in the area for around 20 years.

She didn't hear the alarm being raised and the consequences could have been disastrous.

Ironically, the organisers of the bonfire that caused the problem had taken advice on its siting, but it is impossible to predict what will happen when the wind whips around a huge pyre sending clouds of burning embers hurtling into the sky.

The work of the Fire Service in containing the blaze to the three properties and for its sterling work at other bonfire sites where it had to damp down properties to prevent heat damage deserves special praise.

Of course, the bonfires are only the prelude to the Twelfth demonstrations which took place at 18 centres throughout Northern Ireland as well as one in Donegal.

The organisation of such mass demonstrations is a huge logistical exercise that is often not appreciated.

And it appeared that this year there was stricter marshalling of parades at a few potential flashpoints in Belfast which prevented any problems arising.

Even the contentious parade at Ardoyne in north Belfast passed off peacefully with the Orange Order allowed to march down the road in the morning and adhering to the Parades Commission ruling not to pass that spot on the return journey.

Discussions to resolve the impasse over that parade, which has been the spark for violence in past years, failed at the last moment this year when it seemed a resolution was within reach.

However, those talks between residents and the Orange Order seem to have set a more conciliatory tone, which augurs positively for the future.

But while bonfires and bones of contention often make the headlines it should be remembered that the vast majority of demonstrations and parades pass off peacefully.

One only has to look at the sea of smiling faces from the venues around the province to realise that the Twelfth is a hugely important cultural date in the calendar for one section of this community.

And the atmosphere at the many rural venues is completely different from what can sometimes happen on the streets of Belfast, where there can be an underlying tension that can be exploited by some unscrupulous forces.

One theme that was very evident at yesterday's demonstrations was the Battle of the Somme, which occurred 100 years ago.

Many Orangemen fought in that battle and it was right that they - and all the Irish soldiers involved - were dutifully remembered.

This Twelfth, perhaps, could be the shape of things to come.

It was a glorious feast of colour and pageantry and visitors no doubt find it an attractive sight.

In Belfast the shops opened as soon as the parades moved out of the city centre, making it less of the retail desert it used to be.

But there are outstanding issues to be addressed on the marching season and we have 365 days before the next Twelfth to do so.

The public, quite rightly, will be critical if matters such as bonfires or parading disputes are not resolved in the intervening period.

Belfast Telegraph

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