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Burning bridges: Community relations take hit as old hostilities resurface

Charged political climate around Storey funeral sets scene for 11th night of violence and bigotry

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 The 11th night bonfire is lit at Moneyreagh Co Down. Picture Colm O'Reilly

The 11th night bonfire is lit at Moneyreagh Co Down. Picture Colm O'Reilly

A bonfire is lit on Belfast's Lower Newtownards Road

A bonfire is lit on Belfast's Lower Newtownards Road

PA

Moneyreagh bonfire

Moneyreagh bonfire

General view of the North Queen Street area of the New Lodge as disturbances broke out between the PSNI and Nationalist youths.  PSNI officers searched the area for petrol bombs and missiles.

General view of the North Queen Street area of the New Lodge as disturbances broke out between the PSNI and Nationalist youths. PSNI officers searched the area for petrol bombs and missiles.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Ey

Cregagh Estate's 12th July Bonfire

Cregagh Estate's 12th July Bonfire

Taking charge: Dee Stitt helps stack wood onto the bonfire at Kilcooley in Bangor

Taking charge: Dee Stitt helps stack wood onto the bonfire at Kilcooley in Bangor

NO BY-LINE

Rioting at North Queen Street in Belfast. Picture Colm O'Reilly

Rioting at North Queen Street in Belfast. Picture Colm O'Reilly

The 11th night bonfire is lit at Moneyreagh Co Down. Picture Colm O'Reilly

Dozens of bonfires raged across Northern Ireland last night as loyalists defied pleas from the Orange Order not to hold any due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Eleventh Night celebrations were marred by attacks on police by nationalist youths in north Belfast and by loyalist sectarian banners on bonfires.

Trouble which had begun in north Belfast on Friday continued as police came under attack at the interface between the New Lodge and Tigers Bay areas yesterday.

Paint cans and other missiles were thrown at PSNI vehicles along North Queen Street for the second day in a row as police tried to prevent a repeat of petrol bomb attacks the previous night.

Officers in riot gear carried out a number of searches in the area and assembled media were pelted with bottles and eggs by rioters from the nationalist New Lodge area.

There had been a surge in the number of bonfires being organised by loyalists following the contentious west Belfast funeral of former IRA man Bobby Storey on June 30 - in defiance of an Orange Order plea for no pyres because of the coronavirus threat.

Scrap wood and furniture with messages mocking Bobby Storey written on them were placed on some bonfires along with tricolour flags and the sectarian abbreviation KAT. Pictures also emerged in social media of an anti-Black Lives Matter placard at Whitehill bonfire in Bangor.

Yesterday afternoon cops confirmed they were investigating a separate loyalist banner which also ridiculed the funeral of Bobby Storey.

The ghoulish banner was circulated on social media as preparations for the bonfires ramped up last week and the PSNI said it was being investigated as a hate crime. The banner, which carried images of Bobby Storey and his funeral, carried the caption: "Bobby Storey raised in west Belfast, burnt in Loyalist east Belfast."

Former British soldier and UUP MLA Doug Beattie condemned the banner, saying: "I'll be clear - I think this is wrong and only targets the grieving family.

"There are issues to explore in respect to the funeral but this is not the way to do it."

Orange Order leaders had urged loyalists to call off the bonfires and hold barbecues in their back gardens instead.

The Rev Mervyn Gibson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, acknowledged public anger following social distancing breaches during the Storey funeral.

He said he would have preferred to see no bonfires, and added: "We do not want to mimic their bad behaviour."

Mr Gibson had also appealed for anyone going to bonfires to make sure people socially distanced or "go home".

At the time of going to press, most of the Eleventh Night events seemed to have passed off peacefully.

On Friday night, police warned of consequences for those who had been involved in disorder in north Belfast.

PSNI officers came under attack from youths throwing petrol bombs on North Queen Street and the New Lodge Road across Friday afternoon and evening.

Chief Inspector Peter Brannigan said evidence is being gathered on those who were involved.

"Police came under attack by youths who threw a number of petrol bombs across North Queen Street and on New Lodge Road," he said.

"Throughout the course of the afternoon and into the early evening time a further number of petrol bombs were thrown.

"It was also reported that youths in the vicinity of Duncairn Gardens were throwing stones at houses and at passing cars."

Mr Brannigan also said there were reports of damage to two vehicles, one on York Street and the other on North Queen Street, "as a result of this senseless behaviour".

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly called for calm in the area and said the disturbances stemmed from the erection of a loyalist bonfire at an interface area along Duncairn Gardens. He said: "The erection of this bonfire - for the first time in eight years - is clearly an orchestrated attempt to intimidate residents and damage long-standing community relations.

"We have met with multiple statutory agencies and community leaders from all sides of the community to warn them of the potential for escalation and to attempt to defuse this situation.

"The people of north Belfast do not want this type of activity on their streets."

Also in north Belfast a contentious parade in a mixed area went ahead despite a ruling from the Parades Commission prohibiting it from passing through a number of streets.

The Kilcoole Community Band had been granted permission to parade a route which avoided any part of Kilcoole Park and Kilcoole Gardens, instead allowing them to proceed along a section of the Ballysillan Road.

The commission said the decision had been made in order to reflect "the community relations impacts of this parade in this area."

Despite the ruling a march took place yesterday evening along the areas which had been prohibited by the commission.

A spokesman for the Parades Commission said: "We received information that a parade was held in north Belfast on the evening of 11th July 2020 into Kilcoole Park and Kilcoole Gardens.

"The Commission informed the PSNI in writing on 10th July 2020 that it could not accept a sensitive parade notification at close of business on 10th July 2020.

"The parade was therefore unnotified to the Commission. Unnotified parades are a matter for the PSNI."

Elsewhere North Down UDA chief Dee Stitt was pictured helping build the bonfire in the Kilcooley estate in Bangor yesterday.

He tweeted an image of the bonfire before it was set alight with the caption: "Kilcooley bonfire 2020 fully stacked. No surrender," along with several Union flag emojis.

The biggest bonfire of the night was believed to be in Ballycraigy estate in Antrim, which the organisers claimed was 190 pallets high.

Belfast Telegraph