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‘Dial down tension’ over loyalist bonfires, O’Neill urges

The Sinn Fein deputy First Minister visited residents in the Clonard and New Lodge areas of Belfast ahead of the July 11 loyalist bonfires.

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A controversial loyalist bonfire built at the interface in north Belfast dividing loyalist Tigers Bay and nationalist New Lodge (Liam McBurney/PA)

A controversial loyalist bonfire built at the interface in north Belfast dividing loyalist Tigers Bay and nationalist New Lodge (Liam McBurney/PA)

A controversial loyalist bonfire built at the interface in north Belfast dividing loyalist Tigers Bay and nationalist New Lodge (Liam McBurney/PA)

Political leaders need to “dial down the tension” to help ensure a calm summer, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The Sinn Fein deputy First Minister visited residents in the Clonard and New Lodge areas of Belfast on Tuesday ahead of the July 11 loyalist bonfires, which precede the traditional day of parades on July 12.

Ms O’Neill said residents had told her of being “hemmed in” their homes by bonfires.

She said: “In advance of the weekend and a very tense time of the year, I wanted to speak to residents around their own experiences and their own feelings for the incoming days.

“It is very clear, I don’t think there is anywhere you would go in any civilised society would you see a situation where residents feel hemmed in or you would see a situation where people actually have cages on the back of their homes to protect their families and to protect their property.

“I don’t think that is an acceptable situation and I don’t think it is tolerable.”

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Michelle O’Neill meets local residents during a visit to the interface area in west Belfast to speak with residents about the upcoming July 11 bonfires (Liam McBurney/PA)

Michelle O’Neill meets local residents during a visit to the interface area in west Belfast to speak with residents about the upcoming July 11 bonfires (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Michelle O’Neill meets local residents during a visit to the interface area in west Belfast to speak with residents about the upcoming July 11 bonfires (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms O’Neill added: “I would encourage all those in political leadership to ensure that they do all they can to dial down the tension, that we encourage communities to work together.

“There is no space for bonfires to be on interface areas. So I think our priority in the coming days has to be around the protection of lives, people’s safety, the protection of people’s property, and it has to be about dialling down that tension.

“As one lady put it, she feels hemmed in and that has been her experience every year for as long as she’s lived here and I don’t think that’s acceptable, so more must be done and political leadership needs to kick in.”

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A massive bonfire in the loyalist Craigyhill area of Larne dwarfs local houses in the town (Liam McBurney/PA)

A massive bonfire in the loyalist Craigyhill area of Larne dwarfs local houses in the town (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

A massive bonfire in the loyalist Craigyhill area of Larne dwarfs local houses in the town (Liam McBurney/PA)

Last week, police said out of 250 bonfires being erected across Northern Ireland, just two or three are sites of concern.

A number of political posters, including Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance material, have been seen on some pyres.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long is among the politicians whose posters are on bonfires.

She tweeted: “I get trolled a lot, falsely accused of hating loyalists and unionists. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d love to know what those people make of loyalists burning my image in an act of intimidation and blatant hatred.

“Burning people’s images isn’t culture, folks.”


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