Northern Ireland news

Belfast council's loyalist bonfire injunction may still be in place

A bonfire last year off Ravenscroft Avenue in east Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

A LANDMARK court injunction taken last year against several loyalist bonfires may still remain in place.

Belfast City Council secured the High Court action in relation to four sites just days before the Eleventh Night last year following concerns over the size of the pyres.

According to the injunction, those involved in bonfire building are prevented without consent from entering the sites with materials "for the purposes of erecting a bonfire".

It states that the restrictions apply "until further order", and those breaching the injunction could be found in contempt of court and sent to prison or fined.

The council has confirmed that "no further application has been made to the court" since then.

However, it added that the injunction "was based on evidence that was relevant at that time" and it would be required to "present new evidence in support of any application with regards to current circumstances, were members minded to do so".

The injunction was placed on four bonfire sites – Ravenscroft Avenue car park/Bloomfield Walkway; Avoniel Leisure Centre car park; Inverary playing fields; and Cregagh Park East.

Collections for bonfires across the north have already begun ahead of the Eleventh Night.

Stacks of pallets were yesterday spotted off Ravenscroft Avenue, where last year a bonfire was built in a public car park.

In total, securing the High Court injunction cost ratepayers £4,470.

Three alleged breaches of the injunction were reported to the council, but it has refused to confirm if any action has been taken, saying it "does not comment upon enforcement issues generally".

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson – a spokesperson for a group calling itself the East Belfast Community Initiative, which represents three of the bonfires affected – claimed the injunctions "were not, and are not, worth the paper they were written on".

He has previously argued the legal action never took effect because notices were not affixed to the sites – a stated requirement of the court order – but the council insisted it was "active" because the order was widely publicised.

Mr Bryson claimed it was a "gross abuse of public money going to the High Court seeking an injunction in the first place".

He said the council "need to be abundantly clear that as far as they are concerned the injunctions are no longer active, and if necessary they should advise the court of that fact".

"If the council think they are going to hold this piece of paper like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the unionist community, then they are acting in bad faith," he added.

Asked about the wording of the court injunction, a council spokeswoman said: "The injunction obtained in 2017 was based on evidence that was relevant at that time.

"On that basis, Belfast City Council would be required to present new evidence in support of any application for an injunction with regards to current circumstances, were members minded to do so."

She added that councillors and officials are considering the recommendations of a report completed earlier this year examining the council's approach of bonfires.

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said parties were working to implement the recommendations, including the establishment of a bonfire panel.

"The SDLP is clear that we cannot have a repeat of the situation in 2017. Together with our statutory partners we must tackle bonfires which may put at risk people's health, homes and property," he said.

Sinn Féin councillor Deirdre Hargey said while not all recommendations of the report will be in place for 2018, "we have been working to look at governance and interim arrangements for handling the most negative access pertaining to some bonfires that may risk damage to life, property or the environment or the manifestation of hate crime".

"We have agreed that any decision for the removal of materials, legal action or any other action would be considered and voted on at the strategic policy and resources committee, which has been given delegated authority to make decisions relating to bonfires.”

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