The circle virt over Loyalist bonfires
is wholly counterproductive

To those of us who sit on the right of the political spectrum the raging, aggressive, hostile and inherently leftist consensus that seems to exist across social media is the source of considerable amusement.

Online unanimity, or onimity, if you’re the sort of person who likes a buzzword, can take many forms but it generally takes the form of an echo chamber where all the participants agree that they are very, very nice and motivated by pure unadulterated virtue – and everyone else is motivated by Sun editorials or by absolutist evil.

This has never been more noticeable than during the EU referendum fallout three weeks ago when over 17 million people were branded as racists in a circle of virtuousness the likes of which hasn’t been seen before. Well, since the General Election result last year at any rate.

Just like the referendum, the Summer marching season in Northern Ireland brings to the fore divides that exist in our society that are increasingly obscured from view the rest of the time. While this Twelfth was a relatively peaceful one between our two supposedly irreconcilable factions, analysis of the online circle virt reveals that we’re becoming a society increasingly divided between right-on liberals and those they think it’s OK to hate.

A few weeks ago when the traditional Eleventh night bonfires began to take shape the internet whipped itself up into a frenzy of guestimating (the proximity of housing to naked flame), mock-outrage fed by frankly false Belfast Telegraph stories about play parks, mess and the appearance of the kids running around with pallets. Without the slightest hint of self-awareness, people from leafy suburbs poured scorn upon young boys and girls for building bonfires on their precious cycle path, frequently remarking that ‘it just shouldn’t be allowed’. It is unanimously agreed that bonfire builders, and loyalists in general, fall into the nasty crowd.

Amusing as it may be, this supposed contempt for the evil doers, the racists, the xenophobes, the sociophobes, the illiterate, the under-educated or whatever label modern liberals are employing right now in the comfort of their own living rooms to describe those who live outside their bubble of bourgeois conformity is entirely counterproductive.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot about bonfires that is unhelpful. In the hours before the fires were lit, social media reached hitherto unseen levels of judgeyness as the symbols of Britishness were replaced with symbols of Irishness. Burning Irish flags and other nationalist and centrist-related materials feeds ammunition to the online snob mob and detractors in general. Because of the Assembly elections in May, a bumper crop of Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and socialist posters were available, many of which made their way onto various bonfires around Belfast and further afield. In Upper Bann, Sinn Fein reported the burning of their posters as a ‘hate crime’ – as if they would somehow think it irrational for anyone to hate politicians.

All of this serves to legitimise liberal whining about bonfires when what we really have is a cultural clash about the use of public space, notions about how communal events should be organised and indeed, health and safety, or rather its complete absence – it’s not uncommon to see fires built close to buildings or lads scaling the pallets and standing 60 feet above the ground while the fire is lit below them.

What almost every participant to the self-righteous rage about bonfires demonstrated was their complete disconnection from the people who live just down the road. In 2002 Cluan Place, which sits on an interface, was raked with gunfire which hit three people. Almost every house was rendered uninhabitable. Every year they have a bonfire at the entrance to the street which eventually results in tarmac being melted off the road. Dubious in its legality but worth the opprobrium when all is put in perspective? No. While the political system of Northern Ireland tends to work quite well for the folks who don’t vote for it, and against those who do, can it be any surprise that a gung-ho expression of cultural identity becomes overtly political?

What the liberals claim to hate is the overt signs of ‘bigotry’, and some quite clearly would have no problem with bonfires if people stopped burning symbols, but many others just possess a belief that the world would be much better if people were just nice, middle class, and virtuous.

If the bearers of such holier-than-thou attitudes were seen outside of onimity world, maybe just a mile down the road, they would see the goodness in the loyalist community. But kicking a community that the peace process left behind means you can demonstrate how nice and progressive you are – just as knocking Leave voters proves how cosmopolitan you are. And if we’re really concerned about Northern Ireland moving forward then some people will have to learn that their bigotry is just as visceral as that they profess to oppose.

Neil Wilson is CfL Campaigns Director. Follow Neil on Twitter: @libertyneil

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty