15 July 2005

Mixed reports as embers cool


by Joe Nawaz

As the dust settled and the embers cooled on another Twelfth of July, the aftermath of this year’s parades and bonfire celebrations could be seen scattered around the south of the city.

Bags, bottles and discarded flags littered the streets of Belfast on Tuesday evening while the debris from the previous night’s bonfires was still burning the following day.

On Tates Avenue on Tuesday morning, the smoking ruins of a bonfire obstructed the main road, forcing cars to veer dangerously around the obstacle.

Nearby, plastic traffic island pillars had been burned away by the heat of the blaze, leaving just two melted stumps.

Roads Service were unavailable for comment

Just around the corner on Boucher Road, while previous night’s revellers were lining the streets to cheer on the bandsmen, a still-burning bonfire had incinerated a public billboard next to it.

Even at council-sponsored bonfires organisers found it difficult to keep order – five masked UVF men appeared on stage at the council-supported Pitt Park bonfire to fire a volley of shots into the air.

The site was one of eight to receive £2,500 in funding to help bring it under proper control.

The other two in South Belfast – at Annadale and Taughmonagh – appeared to pass off with less controversy, although the clean-up bill has yet to be counted.

Speaking before eleventh night, council spokesperson Stephen Walker said, “I would hope that all our eight sites this year will avoid an overt display of paramilitary imagery or presence.”

He was unable to say afterwards whether the night’s events had jeopardised future council sponsored bonfires.

In the final analysis, half-burned kitchen units and sofas, scorched walls and even a burned-out van next to Donegall Pass PSNI station indicated that it was “business as usual” for the eleventh night in South Belfast.

Colin Halliday, loyalist community representative for the Village area, said that events had gone better than planned and added that South Belfast parades had been amongst the best organised in Northern Ireland.

“I was delighted with how the eleventh and twelfth went this year. It’s a real testimony to organisers that we got things right and there was no trouble.”

He denied any knowledge of obstructive or illegal bonfires on Tates Avenue.

“I was all over the Donegall Road and Sandy Row on Monday night – I didn’t see anything like that at all. I would say that it’s been a success overall.”

On march day itself, thousands of flag-waving, beer-drinking revellers lined the main arterial route of Lisburn Road as bandsmen paraded by.

The weather proved to be kind, as parades from all over South Belfast converged at Barnett’s Demesne and then returned into town later that evening.

Apart from several drink-induced brawls, it was a relatively peaceable day and a far cry from the sobering events that were unfolding in Ardoyne at the same time.

However, residents on the lower Ormeau Road were party to the other side of the coin, as locals were abused and several attacked by bandsmen who had been allowed, at the last moment, to change their route, taking them closer to the mixed, residential Holyland area.

Local councillor and MLA, Alex Maskey, said that marchers had been “intimidatory” and “triumphalist” as they marched near to nationalist homes.

“They were abusive and violent, directly in front of a parades commission observer. This kind of thing is detrimental to an area which has in recent years been relatively quiet.

“There needs to be stiffer action taken by the Parades Commission to ensure the rights and safety of people from other communities over the twelfth. There is not just one community living here and that should be taken that into account for future years.”

A day of contrasts, then, for both nationalists and loyalists living in the most mixed region of Belfast.

As residents from the Markets, Short Strand and Lower Ormeau battened down the hatches to weather another Twelfth of July, their counterparts from the Village and Sandy Row took to the streets with Lambeg drum, fife and sash to celebrate their culture/ affirm their superiority – depending on who you talk to.

Colin Halliday, comparing the marches here with those that had erupted in violence in the north of the city said, “On the whole it’s been a real quiet and enjoyable Twelfth of July in South Belfast. It was the most peaceful for years and long may it last.”

Journalist:: Joe Nawaz

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