Belfast Telegraph

Dial down the rhetoric: Arlene Foster issues message to those engaged in 'campaign of demonisation' against Loyalist bonfire builders

  • Bonfire builders urged not to 'play into hands of those wanting to demonise culture'
  • No culture should dominate another
  • Irish language 'valuable part of society' and must be respected

By Jonathan Bell

Arlene Foster has issued a message to those she says are engaged in a "campaign of demonisation" against those wanting to celebrate the Twelfth saying they needed to "dial down the rhetoric" while urging bonfire builders not to play into their hands.

The DUP leader issued a lengthly statement just hours ahead of the lighting of the bonfires for the Eleventh night.

Read the full statement: Arlene Foster's Twelfth message [full statement]

In it she discussed the issue of the bonfires, but did not specifically address the matter of the Belfast City Council injunction against four sites across Belfast. The DUP, UUP and PUP have refused to comment on claims they supported the council's move on the matter.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has called on the PSNI Chief Constable to "end the display of hate" over the Twelfth. Her call came after election material for members of her party were again placed on bonfires.

Read more: End annual display of hate over Twelfth, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill challenges PSNI chief Hamilton

"Bonfires on the eleventh night have long been part of the unionist culture," said Arlene Foster.

"Those who have waged a campaign of demonisation against such celebrations should dial down the rhetoric.  To those who build bonfires, I urge them to not play into the hands of those who want to demonise the culture.

"They should be respectful of their neighbours. Endangering property and lives should not be a concern for residents on the eleventh night.  These should be events that all the family can enjoy. We will work constructively with communities to achieve this."

I would like to wish everyone a peaceful and enjoyable Twelfth.

Mrs Foster continued: "The Orange Institution is part of the fabric of our society and I would hope that we can move forward to a point where expressions of Orange culture can not only be free from attack, but can be supported and respected by all in our society. I do not want any culture to threaten or dominate any other. A shared society in Northern Ireland must have room for all but without elevating or promoting one section of society above another."

The Fermanagh MLA also repeated her call for devolution to be restored saying local representatives should be making decision on health, education and the economy.

"Those are the issues that matter most to our society and I believe that message received a resounding endorsement at the General Election in June," She said.

On the Irish language, she described it as "unfortunate devolution has been held to ransom by republicans" saying the language was a valuable part of Northern Ireland society and "must be respected".

Northern Ireland must have room for all but without elevating or promoting one section of society above another.

Mrs Foster also thanked Orange Lodges for their "positive role" in encouraging others to vote.

"Despite the image sometimes portrayed, it is not politics that dominates the 12th July however. It is the families who come together as they have done for generations. It is the acquaintances that are refreshed in the field or on the street. It is the celebration of civil and religious liberty and the centrality of faith to the Orange Institution which are far more important.

"I would hope that everyone will enjoy the Twelfth celebrations, both those who do so every year, and perhaps others who will explore this part of our culture and heritage for the first time. Hopefully we can all help build a Northern Ireland where there is respect, tolerance and support for all our cultures and traditions, celebrated equally with one another."

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