Twelfth Celebrations have the potential to succeed, days of inflammatory and prejudicial words and actions must be consigned to the past

Enjoying bottle of pop as a child on 12th July after
watching Band Parade and Demonstration
Over the next week Towns and Cities across Northern Ireland will celebrate the Twelfth, with parties culminating in bonfires, parades and speeches at the Field.

As someone born as a product of a mixed marriage, I am proud to consider part of my identity as British and recall looking forward to watching the bands play and parades pass on the Twelfth of July, whether in North Down or Belfast.

As an adult I have continued to attend events nearly every year and in recent years was  grateful to be invited as a guest of the Orange Order for a meal and historical discussion at The Field in Belfast. As Mayor of North Down in 2013/14 I also valued the opportunity to welcome local Orange Order members to the Town Hall on two occasions and found my visit to The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre at Oldbridge House, Co Meath worthwhile.

In 2010 I was delighted to accept an invite to attend a 12th July Garden Party hosted in Dublin by Irish President Mary McAleese. The event was held to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and the resulting shared history of Ireland, North and South. It attracted people from all backgrounds, North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, Orange and Green, other and none and set out a positive vision of how we can celebrate our shared past today.

With Dr Martin McAleese, President of Ireland Mary McAleese
and my partner Alan at Twelfth of July Garden Party
Despite recent difficulties and previous incidents, especially at some local bonfire sites, which I condemn without equivocation, it is my strong hope that the Twelfth Celebrations have the potential to succeed as a positive celebration of identity characterised by mutual respect, tolerance, dialogue, understanding and support for the Police as they seek to uphold the Rule of Law. The days of inflammatory and prejudicial words and actions perpetrated by a small minority but projected across the world must be consigned to the past.

The numerous bonfire sites across the borough and the main local demonstration due to occur in Holywood in the days ahead provide a great opportunity to enhance and strengthen North Down as a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone with universal respect for the rule of law. Together, let’s grasp it.