Image caption
Women from the area surround the bonfire in Avoniel on Tuesday evening

Hundreds have gathered outside Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast to protest at a council decision to remove a bonfire from its grounds.

It came after Belfast City Council said its initial decision to remove bonfire material had not been reversed.

Bonfire builders said removing tyres, reducing its size and moving it away from buildings meant there was no need for the council to take action.

A barricade has been erected at the leisure centre gates.

Protesters told BBC News NI they have tried to compromise with authorities but are now determined that the Eleventh night event will go ahead.

Tensions have been building ahead of bonfires being lit before the Twelfth of July marches.


Image caption
Rev Mervyn Gibson addressed the protest on Tuesday night

Bonfires are lit in some Protestant areas in Northern Ireland on 11 July, the night before Orange Order members commemorate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne with parades across Northern Ireland.

Loyalist representatives from east Belfast met police on Tuesday.

Speaking at the protest, senior Orangeman Rev Mervyn Gibson said that there was “no need for the tension that has arisen around this bonfire, but sadly we have a republican-dominated council who have failed their first real test at openness and compromise”.

He said bonfire builders had removed tyres, then reduced the height of the bonfire, but “no matter what this community did it was not enough to appease those who oppose us”.

He added: “I would appeal for calm at this bonfire – do not react, and I know that’s going to be difficult, because there’s anger here.”


Image caption
A barricade was erected at the leisure centre

Also speaking at Tuesday’s protest were loyalist Jamie Bryson and Robert Girvin, from a group calling itself the East Belfast Cultural Collective, which represents a number of bonfire builders.

At Avoniel Leisure Centre, which closed early on Tuesday, the bonfire has been rebuilt after tyres were voluntarily removed.

Organisers say they have reduced the height of the bonfire to about 20 feet (6m).

It has also been moved further away from buildings in an attempt to meet council criteria.

The centre also closed early on Sunday after its entrance was barricaded by men said to have been acting in a “threatening” way towards staff.

Translink said that due to some potential disruption that there would be a diversion for east Belfast Glider services on Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, in other developments:

  • The builders of a bonfire in nearby Ashdale Street moved it voluntarily to King George’s Playing Field, close to The Oval football ground
  • Contractors, hired by the council, removed 1,800 tyres from a bonfire in Lismore Street, south Belfast, on Sunday.
  • Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council has failed to find a contractor to remove what has been deemed an “unsafe” bonfire in Portadown.

It is estimated there are 80-100 bonfires in Belfast this year, with 35 signed up to an official scheme funded by the city council.

“Efforts have been ongoing for several months to encourage bonfire builders to be mindful of the need to protect life and property,” the city council said.

‘Talk to me’

Earlier, Mr Girvin said: “We promised the young people if they took the tyres out they could have their bonfire.

“All that was done and still the council says no.”

He said he would meet councillors from any party to address concerns over the Avoniel bonfire.


Image caption
Loyalist graffiti has appeared next to the site at Avoniel threatening contractors alleged to be involved in the removal of bonfire material

“Have dialogue with us. Tell us exactly what your issue is with this bonfire,” he said.

“It follows Northern Ireland Fire Service guidelines. The tyres have been removed. He said complaints about other bonfires had been about “the potential to damage property, life or the environment”.

“None of that is here. There’s no potential for any of that so why remove the bonfire?”


Image caption
Bonfire builders voluntarily removed tyres from the Avoniel site

Sinn Féin councillor Ciaran Beattie insisted the problem was just not the tyres but the height and mass of the bonfires and the threat posed to nearby buildings.

He insisted the council should still take action at Avoniel.

“Nothing has changed as far as we are concerned, bar the tyres being removed,” he said.

“There is still a dangerous bonfire on that site”

On Wednesday, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor George Dorrian, Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) councillor John Kyle and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) councillor Jim Rodgers said they were disappointed by Belfast City Council’s decision.

“[Councillors] chose not to build on the progress made by bonfire builders when they removed the tyres yesterday evening from Avoniel bonfire,” they said.

“This year has seen a dramatic improvement in the situation around bonfires throughout Belfast.

“We have spent months engaging with groups across the city and real progress is being made.

“We are confident that the community will fully enjoy the celebrations peacefully and respectfully.”

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk

 

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