Fear for roads staff safety over east Belfast bonfire

Bonfire materials being collected close to a children's play park at Finvoy Street, off the Newtownards Road. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Paul Ainsworth

The Department for Infrastructure has expressed concerns for the safety of its staff in relation to a loyalist bonfire being constructed on its land in east Belfast.

Wooden pallets have been delivered to the bonfire site at the Walkway Community Centre close to the Newtownards Road, sparking safety concerns over its proximity to the centre’s sports pitch and a children’s play park.

The bonfire site was relocated from the nearby Bloomfield Walkway car park at Ravenscroft Avenue, close to a church which saw windows boarded up ahead of last year’s Eleventh Night celebrations to protect it from the intense heat.

The decision to move the site was made after an agreement with bonfire builders. However, the new location has prompted fresh concerns, with warnings that the bonfire is “too big” for the area.

Bonfire materials at the Walkway Community Centre close to the Newtownards Road. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

Local Pastor Lucas Parks, whose Village Church was the focus of last year’s concerns, has also claimed the event is a “UVF bonfire” and is “overtly sectarian” due to tricolours being burned at previous years’ blazes.

The land belongs to the Department for Infrastructure, and a spokeswoman told the Irish News that it “does not approve of or support the unauthorised use of its property including public highways, walkways and verges for the building of bonfires”.

In a statement, she said department staff would remove bonfire material “when there is clear community support and when advised it is safe to do so by PSNI”.

Bonfire materials at the Walkway Community Centre close to the Newtownards Road. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

The spokeswoman continued: “Removal of material from a bonfire site is a sensitive issue. Whilst it may seem reasonably straightforward for DfI Roads staff to move in and remove bonfire material as it is collected, managers have to consider the safety of their staff and contractors.

“In order to remove unsuitable material from sites, the Department needs to be satisfied that local agreements are in place and will work closely with PSNI to ensure staff and contractors are not put at risk.

She added: “Officials are liaising closely with PSNI and other statutory agencies, to assess the need for protection of nearby properties, should the bonfire be located on the Walkway.”

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