Fanning the flames of bigotry, time to show respect – an opinion piece by Cllr Michael Long

There is a simple maxim that states that, in order to get respect, you must demonstrate respect in return.

However, over the past few days we have seen it is a theory that the people behind many bonfires in our community clearly do not subscribe to.

Once again a number of sites saw various flags – some of different countries, some filled with abusive slogans – burned.

Others were witness to election posters – from Alliance, nationalist parties and others – attached before being set ablaze.

Some of them even contained sinister effigies of various politicians.

Firstly, I want to make clear that Alliance has no issue with anyone celebrating their culture in a respectful or tolerant manner.

But partaking in such activities, which can be seen as an attack on the democratic process, is neither of those things.

On a personal level, ask yourself how you would feel if you saw the image of a loved one being placed on a bonfire to be set on fire?

That is what I had to witness when posters of Naomi Long, stolen from lampposts during the recent election campaign, were positioned on several bonfires in east Belfast.

It is no less than a hate crime, which I have since reported to the PSNI.

In my previous role as Castlereagh councillor I worked on the local inter-agency bonfire group for more than a decade.

So I am well placed to know that there are many bonfires out there that are respectful displays of culture and which stick to the guidelines set out by the governing schemes.

It is, therefore, especially frustrating to see renegade bonfires overshadow the positive work undertaken elsewhere, because, inevitably, they will be the ones people think of when bonfires are mentioned.

If we are to have a truly shared society, action must be taken to prevent these sorts of activities in future.

No longer can those who refuse to engage in council-operated schemes be allowed to operate and we cannot go another year with hate crimes hijacking culture.

It is time to start showing some respect.

  • This article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph, dated July 16.
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