Potential loyalist backlash expected to plans to remove controversial bonfire

The bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast.

CONTRACTORS supported by specialist public order police are expected to remove wood this weekend from a controversial bonfire built close to homes on an east Belfast walkway.

Belfast City Council officials are understood to be holding a crunch meeting on Saturday morning to finalise plans to dramatically reduce the size of the Bloomfield pyre, which is twice the size loyalists had been advised to build on health and safety grounds.

Last July, days before loyalist bonfires were due to be lit, the council was granted a High Court injunction preventing material being added to four sites in the east of the city.

The injunctions were granted for Ravenscroft Avenue car park/Bloomfield walkway, Avoniel Leisure Centre car park, Inverary playing fields and Cregagh Park East.

The court order prohibited anyone from entering the sites “for the purposes of directing, building, organising and/or constructing bonfires and/or providing materials for use on a bonfire”.

However, the injunction was never enforced and the fires went ahead with more material added after the July 7 court order.

There was further controversy when The Irish News revealed that the council was storing around 2,500 pallets for the bonfire at a separate site, costing ratepayers thousands of pounds. The pallets were later stolen by the UDA.

In 2015 50 families had to leave their homes when the bonfire was built further along Bloomfield walkway next to Chobham Street.

The following year a newly built play park on the 2015 site had to be moved to facilitate the bonfire which was constructed nearby.

This year the fire was moved again after advice from the fire and rescue service but once again has been built up to twice the maximum advised size, causing concerns for nearby properties.

Residents in the area have been voicing concerns over the safety of their homes due to the size of the fire, which it less that 20 metres from some properties.

Mediators have been working with bonfire builders and negotiated the removal of some material last weekend. However earlier this week more wood was added.

The Irish News understands that the Department for Infrastructure is to take the lead in the initiative to remove the walkway bonfire material over fears of threats to council staff and officers if they were to act unilaterally.

Materials are expected to be removed by a contractor hired from outside of Northern Ireland assisted by the PSNI’s specialist Tactical Support Group.

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