Presbyterian moderator Dr. Frank Sellar stands by “sinful” bonfire comments

Posted By: November 11, 2016

Unionist backlash after church leader says bonfires “a means to pass on sins of the father”

Allan Preston. Belfast Telegraph. Friday, November 11, 2016


The leader of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has been criticized after he condemned community bonfires as sinful.

Speaking at the 2016 Ulster University Chaplaincy Lecture in Belfast, Dr. Frank Sellar described the annual events in loyalist and republican communities as “toxic” for both the environment and community relations.

“Dotted over this city at certain times of year in both communities are bonfires, which give off the toxic fumes of heat rather than light,” he said.

“Given our history and fortress mindsets, while celebrating and commemorating the past divisively, they are also a danger to the environment, property, and human well-being.

“They are not bonfires fuelled by inclusiveness, respect, and healing, but a means by which we pass on to succeeding generations the sins of our fathers.”

He told the Stephen Nolan show on Radio Ulster on Friday morning he stood by his comments.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is a Presbyterian but questioned whether the matter had been raised in the right way.

“The moderator is someone I have great respect for, but I am not sure that these comments help address and resolve the issues around bonfires,” he said.

The Lagan Valley MP urged “tolerance and respect” for how unionists celebrate their culture “rather than suggesting that they should find a different way of expressing it”.

A house catches fire at the Lower Shankill bonfire as it is lit during July 12th celebrations in Belfast , 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
“If we take a more positive approach, we will get a more positive outcome,” he added.

North Belfast DUP MLA Nelson McCausland described the comments by Dr. Sellar as “ill-considered and inaccurate.”

Mr. McCausland said traditional “Eleventh Night” bonfires, lit every July, celebrate King William of Orange’s arrival in Ireland and the subsequent Glorious Revolution.

“Is he suggesting that these historic events were ‘the sins of our fathers’ and that they were somehow sinful?” he asked.

There was strong criticism of some loyalist bonfires this July when one in the Shankill area caused £90,000 worth of damage to five terraced homes in Hopewell Square. Lily Turtle (73) and her two-year-old granddaughter Skyla were asleep upstairs when their house caught fire.

And in August, republicans in Londonderry were also criticized from within their own community after a massive bonfire was built across a main arterial route in the city