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Unionist leaders criticise burning of Irish tricolour flags on Eleventh Night bonfires

More than 230 Eleventh Night bonfires were lit across Northern Ireland between Friday night and last night.

Updated Jul 12th 2021, 12:45 PM

featureimage The tricolour burning on the Tigers Bay ‘eleventh night’ bonfire in Belfast in the early hours of this morning Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

DUP LEADER JEFFREY Donaldson and TUV leader Jim Alister have condemned the burning of Irish tricolour flags on an Eleventh Night bonfires in Northern Ireland.

It comes after a busy night for Northern Ireland’s fire service, who were called out to 81 bonfire incidents over the course of the weekend.

A number of bonfires erected in recent weeks for the Twelfth of July celebrations have also been criticised for bearing images of Stormont politicians such as Alliance leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long.

Donaldson told the BBC: “I don’t want to see election posters or flags burnt on bonfires. I think we can celebrate our culture and our tradition in a respectful way.

Respect is a two-way street; if you want to gain respect for your traditions and culture you’ve got to show respect for the traditions, culture and symbols of other communities.

Donaldson said work needed to continue to address safety issues around the size of some of the bonfires.

“I think we need to continue working with those who organise bonfires to look at safety issues and to look at the height of bonfires, where they are located. In the end, public safety is absolutely paramount when it comes to this.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said that the burning of the tricolour flag was “unnecessary, dishonouring and inappropriate”. He also added that people shouldn’t be surprised by the way the Irish tricolour is resented because of the way it was used by the IRA.

“It’s wrong to use the flag that way and it’s wrong to burn the flag of other countries on bonfires,” he told the BBC, before calling the issue “not of the greatest significance”.

Earlier, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has said it dealt with a “significant increase” in emergency calls to bonfire-related incidents this year.

More than 230 Eleventh Night bonfires were lit across Northern Ireland between Friday night and last night.

The bonfires precede the Twelfth of July parades, the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.

While the NIFRS said it was “exceptionally busy” over the weekend, it also confirmed there were no attacks on fire service personnel.

The NIFRS said firefighters had been required to take direct action to protect properties from heat caused by bonfires.

A spokesman said: “Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service has dealt with a significant increase in emergency calls and mobilisations to bonfire related incidents over 9, 10 and 11 July.”

embedded260893129 Tiger’s Bay ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfire in Belfast alight in the early hours of this morning Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

Between 6pm on Friday night and 2am on Saturday morning, the service received 54 calls and was sent to 40 incidents, including seven bonfire-related incidents.

Between 6pm on Saturday night and 2am yesterday morning, it received 171 calls and was sent to 99 incidents, including 34 bonfire-related incidents.

The same figures for 6pm yesterday to 2am today were 153 calls, 150 mobilisations of which 40 were bonfire-related.

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This means that over the weekend there were a total of 378 calls and 244 mobilisations, 81 dealing with bonfire incidents.

battle-of-the-boyne-bonfires Fireowrks go off before the huge bonfire in Craigyhill, Larne. Source: PA

A NIFRS spokesperson said: “Over the three nights this represents a significant increase in bonfire related incidents compared to 2020 when 24 bonfire related incidents occurred from 6pm to 1am on the night of 11/12 July.

The service was exceptionally busy on each of the three nights, with direct intervention required by NIFRS to protect properties from radiated heat, embers, etc. from the bonfires.

“Despite the increased demand of bonfire related incidents, NIFRS maintained emergency response cover across Northern Ireland through the use of contingency planning measures, enabling attendance to a range of operational incidents including property fires and other emergency incidents.

“NIFRS can confirm there were no attacks on fire service personnel or appliances at any bonfire related incidents.”

embedded260892616 Fire fighters dampen down nearby properties as a huge bonfire in Craigyhill, Larne, is lit Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

There were more than 160 bonfires lit across Northern Ireland last night alone.

These included the contentious bonfire at Adam Street in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area of north Belfast, which is adjacent to the nationalist New Lodge area.

The bonfire had attracted controversy as nationalist and republican politicians had claimed that the homes of New Lodge residents had come under attack from bonfire builders.

But unionist politicians rejected this, stating the bonfire was a legitimate expression of their culture, and accused nationalist political leaders of raising tensions.

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