Northern Ireland

Bonfire makers say council trying to 'erode Britishness'

A protesting against the council
Image caption A sign outside the Killymerron estate in Dungannon

A group representing bonfire builders in Mid Ulster has said the "British community" in the area "feel under attack and marginalised".

Mid Ulster Council is set to be the first council in Northern Ireland to introduce a bonfire licensing scheme.

The British Truth Forum, a hardline unionist group, has said the council is "trying to erode Britishness".

Mid Ulster Council said the plans are still out for consultation and no final decisions have been taken.

Some of the suggested conditions of the licensing scheme include asking for permission to close the road and to get insurance for the bonfire.

Sinn Féin is the largest party on the council but does not have an overall majority.

It is not the first time the council has aroused unionist and loyalist opposition here. Three years ago it banned the sale of emblems including poppies.

Since then it has included Irish on all council signs and voted to remove the union flag in the centre of Magherafelt.

'Despicable acts'

The British Truth Forum answered a number of questions for a BBC Spotlight programme which was broadcast earlier this week.

The group is fronted by William Lennox, a former member of the Protestant Coalition.

"The British community, within Mid Ulster feel under attack and marginalised after the removal of these symbols and the despicable acts from the council," it said.

"The culture of a nation is embedded within the hearts and souls of its people, therefore any erosion of our culture is a direct attack on the people themselves.

"The IRA army-led fascist council are firmly putting their boot on the necks of those who are in the minority, it's a clear case of divide and conquer."

Two bonfire sites in Mid Ulster are classed as high risk by the council.

Image caption A sign outside a house in the Killymerron estate

Sinn Féin councillor Ronan McGinley said the decision to introduce permits is solely about safety and not a cultural attack.

"I would be one of the first councillors in the Mid Ulster district area to stand up if anybody's culture was being attacked," he said.

Keith Buchanan, the DUP MLA for Mid Ulster, said that "British identity is being eroded like snow off a ditch".

"The council needs to engage with the bonfire builders, simple as that," he said.

"If they go heavy-handed and say 'no no no' that's not going to go anywhere good."

There have already been signs of discontent in the area - placards have appeared in towns and estates, including Killymerron in Dungannon.

The signs which say "Attention Mid Ulster Council: Continued cultural oppression can only lead to aggression toward the oppressor" have been called a "clear threat" by Sinn Féin.

'Fight or flight'

The British Truth Forum said it is not directly responsible for the signs but BBC Spotlight understands that some of those it represents are responsible for putting them up.

It said the main objective of the signs was to show the council that they "cannot continue this cultural oppression without consequences".

"When you oppress someone's cultural identity, they see this as a personal attack and the only possible reaction is fight or flight, with the latter becoming more unlikely."

When asked if the group planned any more protests this summer it said it "would always protect British culture".

In a statement Mid Ulster Council said it was unaware that the British Truth Forum had taken on any role around bonfires.

It said it has been pro-active trying to engage bonfire builders.

In relation to the signs it said "staff safety was paramount" and it had reported the matter to the police.

Spotlight: Bonfires of Identity is now available on BBC IPlayer

Related Topics

Around the BBC