Loyalists given grants in exchange for a promise not to burn harmful tyres

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
The Observer
Sunday June 29, 2008

Orangemen are going green this marching season: community groups behind the traditional 11 July bonfires across loyalist areas have received grants of up to £3,000 from Northern Ireland’s 26 local councils to ensure that serious pollutants such as tyres are not burnt.

Eventually the Orange Order leadership hopes to phase out the use of bonfires to mark the start of the Twelfth, loyalism’s most sacred day. They are looking at replacing the conflagrations of wood and rubbish with self-contained beacons modelled on the ones used in the 19th century. Nationalist political leaders have complained for decades that built-up areas become choked with pollution from the tyres burnt in the weeks leading up to the eve of the Twelfth.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP MP for South Belfast, has campaigned against the practice and yesterday welcomed moves to stop tyre-burning. ‘There are up to 50 pollutants released into the atmosphere when the tyres are burnt. Over previous Twelfths, a pall of black smoke hung over Belfast for days. It is not just an environmental issue but also a health one,’ he said.

Robert Saulters, the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge of Ireland, confirmed this weekend that his organisation had backed the eco-friendly initiative. ‘While the Order does not organise bonfires, it works very closely with community organisations that do,’ he said.

‘They were a very important part of the Protestant culture, but people should always remember that there are important safety implications which should be adhered to. It is also important to take into consideration the location of these bonfires. The Order is working with many different agencies to ensure that bonfires are enjoyed by many in a safe environment. It is very important that the people who build bonfires pay attention to all the advice on what they should contain – and many items such as tyres, which are harmful to the environment, should not be used.’

The Order will be publishing leaflets this marching season for distribution at bonfire sites to emphasise these points, Saulters added.

Tomorrow the largest of the loyalist marching institutions will officially unveil its plans for an environmentally friendly 11 July alongside Northern Ireland’s Health and Public Safety Minister, Michael McGimpsey.

Hugh Smyth, the Progressive Unionist councillor for Belfast’s Shankill Road and a former Lord Mayor of the city, confirmed that many of the bonfire groups across the urban loyalist heartland had received council money this year. It will be spent on building beacons, buying material such as wood for the fires and paying for street parties for children at the bonfire sites.

He said a problem remained with unscrupulous local businesses that were still trying to use bonfire sites as a dump for their refuse, much of which contains pollutants.

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