THE inherent contradiction of wanting to be in power, while dodging the responsiblity of sharing power with republicans and others on the basis of equality and respect, has proven to be a constant challenge for the DUP since Ian Paisley crossed his particular Rubicon in 2007 and went into the office of OFMDFM with Martin McGuinness.
The reality is that there are unionists who believe it’s 1921 not 2021. Equality and respect for the human and civil rights of nationalist and republican citizens and for women continues to be anathema to them.

Progressive change of any description, however small, is interpreted as a concession to nationalists and republicans. It’s perceived as a case of ‘You win - we lose.’
Sadly, many unionist political representatives play on this fear, especially in speaking to and for the loyalist working class. Politicians who share little in common with loyalist working class communities on social and economic issues and who rarely represent these interests exploit this fear for electoral purposes.


This tactic is again on show as the DUP, the UUP, the TUV and others prepare for next year’s Assembly election. This is especially true for the DUP, which is also identified with the disastrous RHI scandal and the Brexit, including the creation of the Protocol. Despite their efforts to blame everyone else for this crisis most people know that the DUP campaigned for Brexit.

When I was a curate in the Ark Bar on the Old Lodge Road...One Eleventh Night I walked home from there to the ’Murph the length of the Shankill Road and along the West Circular Road. There were bonfires all along my route..But they were modest affairs with locals mindful not to jeopardise the safety of their small terraced houses.

Did a deal with Theresa May that kept her in power as she negotiated Brexit. Then supported Johnson as he negotiated the Protocol. For all of their public outrage over the Protocol their fingerprints are all over it. And many unionists know this.
So last week the three unionist leaders were happy to be photographed defending the Tigers Bay bonfire while doing nothing to address the enormous poverty, disadvantage and drug problems that are the curse of the people living in that area. Nationalist concern at the siting of a bonfire at an interface and anti-social attacks on the neighbouring New Lodge was dismissed.  Unionist leaders are raising the spectre of instability and the potential for violence if they don’t get the concessions they are demanding.


Jeffrey Donaldson has warned unionists that the future of Northern Ireland is in the balance and that they must win next year’s Assembly election. He has made  the introduction of Irish language legislation conditional on getting rid of the Protocol. He told one journal last week: “If the UK government moves on other elements of New Decade, New Approach, but fails to move on the most fundamental of issues, and that is Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom and its ability to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom, then that will be deeply destabilising for the political institutions...”
So there you are now. Plus ca change.
There were over two hundred bonfires on the Eleventh Night. Thankfully these were generally peaceful, though in some cases provocative, events. The Twelfth also was uneventful. Hopefully that’s it done and dusted for another year.There was a marked increase in call-outs attended by the fire services this year.
When I was young Orange bonfires were smaller affairs. I remember when I was a curate in the Ark Bar on the Old Lodge Road. One Eleventh Night I walked home from there to the ’Murph the length of the Shankill Road and along the West Circular Road. There were bonfires all along my route, usually at street corners. But they were modest affairs with locals mindful not to  jeapordise the safety of their small terraced houses.
Incidentally, bonfires were lit on the eve of the Battle of the Boyne to guide King Billy on his way to that gloriful victory. Or so we are told. Or  to celebrate his victory. Like the ones on the Shankill in my youth, I’m sure they were not the massive contraptions we see nowadays. Nor were they festooned with Irish flags, effigies of political figures, including this columnist, or election and other posters. Nor did they contain tyres.

A few years ago Belfast City Council seized 1800 tyres from one bonfire and saved us all from the awful toxic fumes of burning rubber. And what of global warming? Thousands and thousands of burning wooden pallets do little to protect the environment. So what to do about all this? 


First of all those who argue that Orange bonfires are expressions of culture have a duty to remove all offensive elements from them. Burning flags or images of people are hate crimes. That is not culture and it is not acceptable. Jeffrey should make that clear. Secondly – and I know there more serious problems facing us all – bonfires should  be regulated. They should not be built in places where they are unwelcome.
It should be possible to build eco-friendly  bonfires safely in sites designated for that purpose. I understand some loyalist communities already do this. Smaller beacons built on a bed of sand to avoid damage to road surfaces and consisting of carbon-neutral willow wood piled into pyramid shaped steel structures are now available for those who want an environmentally friendly and neighbourly Eleventh night. 

We don’t need your permission


AS the debate on the unity referendum and a united Ireland mainstreams there have been some positive and welcome interventions. Recently, for example, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar acknowledged that a united Ireland could happen in his lifetime.
Invariably these contributions become the target of a torrent of criticism and condemnation. British Ministers, including the current Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, are quick to react. He described Varadkar’s remark as “unhelpful and ill-advised” as he then proceeded to lecture all of us on the so-called benefits of the British union.
Lewis and the unionist leaders believe they have the right to talk about the union with Britain until the cows come home. Should anyone dare suggest that a united Ireland carries equal legitimacy? They are told to shut up! In the world of political unionism and British Tory nationalism Irish people have to be mindful of the opinions of others and be sensitive to their concerns while accepting that we have no right to expect any equivalence.
Unionists and the Brits don’t have to concern themselves about our opinions or our sensitivities or how far their refusal to honour past agreements breaches the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement, or any of the other agreements made in recent years.

To be clear, no-one needs permission to raise, write about, discuss or advocate for a united Ireland. That is our right. Those who want to advocate for the union are untitled to do that. That is their right.
The unity referendum provision of the Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful and democratic pathway to a United Ireland. It is part of an international treaty and agreement. It is part of the inexorable process of change that has been ongoing for years and that will continue in the time ahead.  The conversation on the unity referendum and the constitutional future of the island of Ireland is well under way. Join it.