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Public safety must come first ahead of July 12 celebrations, says DUP MLA

The annual large-scale parades by the Orange Order have been cancelled but some bands are planning to march.

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Pallets have been gathered for bonfires in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Pallets have been gathered for bonfires in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Pallets have been gathered for bonfires in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

A DUP MLA has urged that public safety must come first ahead of the traditional July 12 celebrations.

The date is historically marked by members of the unionist and loyalist communities in Northern Ireland with bonfires and parades to mark William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

However, this year the Orange Order cancelled the large-scale parades amid the coronavirus pandemic, and instead encouraged supporters to celebrate at home.

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Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in Orangefield Park area of east Belfast, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 07, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Bonfires. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in Orangefield Park area of east Belfast, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 07, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Bonfires. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in Orangefield Park area of east Belfast, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 07, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Bonfires. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

DUP MLA Pam Cameron has called for safe celebrations within the coronavirus regulations, which state that no more than 30 people should gather outdoors.

“The Twelfth period is a very important time for many of us as we celebrate our culture in a respectful manner,” she said.

“This year has presented an unprecedented challenge through Covid-19 and unfortunately this has meant parades and other cultural events have been cancelled due to public safety.

“A number of bands across Northern Ireland have indicated that they will hold small localised short parades on their own and it is crucial that numbers are tightly restricted.”

In the aftermath of the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey, during which hundreds gathered in west Belfast, there was a flurry of applications to the Parades Commission for loyalist band parades.

Restrictions on outdoor gatherings should still be adhered toPam Cameron, DUP MLA

Mrs Cameron praised the Ulster Bands Forum for working to spread the social distancing message.

“Spectators should not follow bands around their short routes. Restrictions on outdoor gatherings should still be adhered to,” she said.

“I would strongly urge everyone to remain mindful of the Covid-19 restrictions and not let the unacceptable behaviour of many Sinn Fein representatives last week be an excuse to do otherwise.”

Earlier, East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson appealed for those building loyalist bonfires to behave responsibly.

Work restarted at sites over the last week with quantities of wooden pallets being gathered.

Those sites include Pitt Park on the lower Newtownards Road, Lismore Street and Orangefield Park, all within Mr Robinson’s constituency.

Last month a number of these sites were cleared following agreement between bonfire builders and Belfast City Council to call off the planned pyres.

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Car park at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast, where pallets had been seen over the past weekend stacked in preparations for an 11th night Bonfire, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 07, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Bonfires. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Car park at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast, where pallets had been seen over the past weekend stacked in preparations for an 11th night Bonfire, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 07, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Bonfires. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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Car park at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast, where pallets had been seen over the past weekend stacked in preparations for an 11th night Bonfire, as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 07, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus Bonfires. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Pallets had also appeared at a former bonfire site at the Bloomfield Walkway over the weekend, but have since been removed.

Some within loyalism have issued guidance suggesting any bonfires should be “small and localised”.

But Mr Robinson warned that bonfires by their nature “require people to congregate”.

“This cannot be ignored and anyone contemplating holding such a bonfire should be conscious their actions could put people’s health at risk but also put them at risk of being considered no different to those who flouted the rules previously,” he said.

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Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. Pic Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. Pic Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. Pic Liam McBurney/PA Wire

“We must be clear that outdoor gatherings of more than 30 people are against the regulations and should not take place.

“Celebrations can continue, but they must do only where they can take place safely and within both the regulations and guidance.”

He added: “Republicans will not be to blame should there be breaches of Covid-19 regulations during any July 12 celebration.

“It will not be a defence or justification to say ‘well they did it too’. Indeed, having stood with the vast majority people from all shades of political opinion, in criticising the deputy First Minister (Michelle O’Neill) and other Sinn Fein representatives, there is an even greater responsibility upon us now to demonstrate that two wrongs do not make a right.”

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