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Threats to workers clearing rubbish from Belfast bonfire site

Wood and other bonfire material at Milltown Hill, south Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

ROADS officials had to withdraw from clearing materials at a loyalist bonfire site in south Belfast following "intimidation", a councillor has said.

The SDLP's Donal Lyons described it as a "sinister new development" at the site along Milltown Road, near Shaw's Bridge.

Stormont's Department for Infrastructure (DfI), which owns the land, said it is now liaising with the PSNI and other public bodies to consider options.

DfI said staff attended the site earlier this month following a complaint about fly-tipping and removed tree cuttings and an old wooden wardrobe.

It said workers returned the following day after another complaint, but "were approached and told not to remove any further material".

"The department is currently liaising with the PSNI and other statutory partners to determine the best way to manage this site going forward," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Lyons said residents have raised concerns with him about bonfire materials being gathered three months in advance of the Eleventh Night.

"There have been long-standing issues with the Milltown bonfire but the intimidation of public workers is a sinister new development. I expect all the parties will rightfully condemn this behaviour," he said.

"As well as the environmental impact of the piles of scrap, the pallets are blocking footpaths and forcing young kids, people with buggies, and the elderly onto one of Belfast's busiest roads.

"Over the last number of years, we've seen tyres, flags and political material burnt on this bonfire, wide scale anti-social behaviour and burning wood falling onto and blocking the main carriageway."

He said several "problem bonfires" caused issues last year, adding: "To expect that people will just put up with three months of this behaviour is ridiculous."

Safety concerns have been raised about the towering annual bonfire in the past, including police previously cordoning off the road due to fears the pyre was unstable.

There have also been issues with rubbish being dumped. In 2016 hand-painted placards were put up warning fly-tippers they faced a £50 fine.

DfI said removal of material from a bonfire site is a "sensitive issue" and "managers have to consider the safety of their staff and contractors".

"The department does not approve of or support the unauthorised use of its property including public highways, walkways and verges for the building of bonfires," a spokeswoman said.

"The department will pro-actively manage bonfire sites on their land by removing unsuitable material when there is clear community support and will also put in place measures to discourage fly-tipping, where appropriate."

Last year Belfast City Council put up a wooden picket fence costing £2,000 around the site to combat fly-tipping.

The council faced criticism for spending ratepayers' cash on the fence – which officials later removed amid the building of last year's pyre – but the local authority insisted it "achieved its purpose".

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