Belfast Telegraph

Clergyman's bonfire comments inflame unionist opinion

By David Young

Presbyterian Moderator Frank Sellar ignited a firestorm on Thursday night when he described Ulster's divisive community bonfires as "sinful".

Senior unionist politicians hit out at his remarks, made at an Ulster University chaplaincy event in Belfast.

Dr Sellar's speech was part of the Moderator's tour of the North Belfast Presbytery, where around 13,000 people attend 24 congregations.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "The moderator is someone I have great respect for, but I am not sure that these comments help address and resolve the issues around bonfires."

The Lagan Valley MP urged tolerance and respect for how unionists celebrate their culture, "rather than suggesting that they should find a different way of expressing it".

North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland also described the Moderator's remarks on bonfires as ""ill-considered and inaccurate". Mr McCausland said traditional Eleventh Night bonfires, lit every July, celebrate King William of Orange's arrival in Ireland and the subsequent Glorious Revolution.

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Bonfires aren't sinful in themselves, but if they are hijacked to spread triumphalism and fear, that is sinful 

"Is he suggesting that these historic events were the sins of our fathers and that they were somehow sinful?" Mr McCausland asked

Yesterday, the Presbyterian Moderator defended his views on BBC Radio Ulster's popular Nolan show.

Rev Sellar said: "If some have taken my remarks out of context and that has caused hurt, obviously I regret that. The more debate we have on this, so that next year is better than last year, last year better than the year before - that is progress and that's what I would love to see."

Below, the churchman stands over the views that have propelled him into the headlines.

But he also fleshes them out and explains the thrust of his argument more thoroughly and in a manner unlikely to offend.

"Bonfires in themselves are not sinful," he writes.

"But they can become sinful when instead of positively celebrating culture, they are hijacked to inculcate triumphalism and fear.

"When negativity is passed on from one generation to the next, that is wrong, because sectarianism is sinful - a cancer that eats away at the very core of our hearts.

"When bonfires cause pressure on an overstretched PSNI or bring potential risk to the Fire Service's life and limb, damage property, local people's health or the environment, then it is something that we need to call 'wrong' and find a better way."

Belfast Telegraph


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