The anniversary of the 1971 imposition of internment or imprisonment without trial in the British Occupied North of Ireland is upon us and various events are being held to commemorate it. Traditionally these have taken the form of communal bonfires symbolising the original reaction within Irish communities across the north-east of the country as the British Forces took away hundreds of men and boys from their homes and places of work to face prolonged detention and days or weeks of torture in the likes of the infamous Long Kesh Concentration Camp or the naval ship HMS Maidstone. The period became synonymous with violent repression by the British state in Ireland and is rightly remembered given the military and political consequences that were to follow. Originally the Internment night bonfires were rather small affairs and ancillary to the commemorations as a whole. However in recent years there has been a marked increase in their size and number. While they have not quite approached the ridiculous proportions of the 11th Night bonfires of the British Unionist minority in Ireland during the July 12th celebrations they are increasingly looking like part of some bizarre “bonfires race”.
Also noticeable is the appearance of British and Unionist emblems and flags on the bonfires, again mirroring the offensive behaviour of some members of the Unionist community. Quite simply this is wrong, it is un-republican and to my mind un-Irish. It is not part of our national character or culture nor should it be. Respect is a two way street and the Irish Nationalist majority of the island-nation of Ireland must lead by example. This practice of burning British or Unionist banners or symbols on bonfires is needlessly disrespectful and counter-productive. Those who engage in it are simply handing political ammunition to the militant leaders of British Unionism in Ireland. They are providing bigots and racists with even more excuses for their hypocritical, Janus-faced misbehaviour.