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Loyalists ask us to respect their flag as they burn everyone else's?

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A loyalist bonfire in Belfast
A loyalist bonfire in Belfast


International flags found on top of loyalist bonfires in Northern Ireland this week have reportedly included: the Irish flag, the Kenyan flag, the Indian flag, the Polish flag, the Mexican flag, the Gay Pride flag and for good measure I suppose Ivory Coast flag.

But what on Earth did the Ivory Coast do to offend loyalism? That's the unlikely question we must ask ourselves having just learned that their flag is adorning a loyalist bonfire this week.

One Belfast bonfire even featured a statue of the Virgin Mary (that was later removed and handed to local Catholic priest Father Gary Donegan, before it could be engulfed).

So, that, I suppose.

All of this leads us to a question: what is going on with loyalism? Aren't the stresses and strains of modern life already challenging enough in this century without the need to offer annual widespread mortal insult to the people you otherwise don't ordinarily meet and don't know?

Why would loyalism intentionally set out to insult the people of the Ivory Coast? What on earth could that African nation have done to Northern Ireland? Or Mexico, for that matter? Or Poland? What insult has Poland offered loyalism?

Recall for a moment that the Northern Irish peace process was almost completely destabilized last year by the so-called 'respect our flag' movement and the widespread months long civil disturbances they caused.

Loyalism is asking us to respect its flag as it burns everyone else's? That takes a measure of self-defeating arrogance that you don't often see in life.

In recent years the Orange Order, which often provides the religious underpinning of political loyalism, have sought to re-brand their 12 of July Battle of the Boyne memorial day with a new moniker: Orange Fest.

Orange Fest sounds like fun. Orange Fest contains the word festival, and festival means a day set aside for celebration or feasting, especially one of religious significance.

But flag burning and intentional provocation and Virgin Mary torching show a different, less tourist welcoming face. Frankly bonfires don't really show a welcoming celebratory face to anyone but the people who set them. The presenters of Orange Fest know that, or they should. When will they address it?

You could well ask what is a modern society doing lighting divisive, threatening and environmentally toxic bonfires at all?

We know that Northern Ireland fire services receive calls about complaining the bonfires every 77 seconds but they rarely take action, because like the residents affected by them they are often too afraid to speak out for fear of being harassed or intimidated themselves.

Even one Democratic Unionist Party minister said this week that the authorities see problems around loyalist bonfires as an unsolvable 'hornets nest' they don't want to touch.

If protestant residents are afraid of these bonfires and the ant-social sectarian thugs associated with them, how do they think Catholics feel?

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