Northern Ireland news

Ex-soldiers hired to remove loyalist bonfire material

Masked contractors removing wood Cluan Place in east Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.

The Department for Infrastructure will have to foot the substantial bill for the contractors called in to remove bonfire material from two controversial Belfast pyres.

The High Court ruled the department was responsible for the protection of life and property, after safety concerns around the Bloomfield walkway bonfire.

While loyalists set fire to the Bloomfield fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning as police moved into the site, any additional material on the site was removed by former soldiers working as paid contractors who were brought into Northern Ireland for the task.

The Irish News understands that the masked contractors working in unmarked vehicles who removed wood from two east Belfast bonfire sites were made up of former members of the military.

The team also later cleared a bonfire at Cluan Place under the protection of several hundred riot police. The fire which contained tyres and was built in the road close to a listed building was also on land with DfI responsibility.

The contractors are to be paid a five figure sum with a small portion of which will come from Belfast City Council ratepayers but with the majority of costs from the DfI budget.

They were brought in to remove the bonfire material after it was deemed too dangerous a job for local contractors to carry out.

Following the removal of the bonfire police warned of an orchestrated backlash by loyalists linked to the UVF.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said police had "received information from the community which indicates that the East Belfast UVF intend to orchestrate and participate in serious disorder in East Belfast directed against my officers".

Shortly after police released the statement a security alert closed the City Airport for a time with passengers trapped inside until ATO examined the object and it was declare an elaborate hoax.

In the Westwinds estate in Newtownards, masked armed men boarded a bus and ordered passengers and the driver off before setting fire to the vehicle.

A number of other cars were hijacked and set on fire across east Belfast and North Down, with roads blocked in multiple incidents.

Masked men pushed a car into the road and set it on fire close to Robbs Road in Dundonald with two cars were set on fire close to Carrowreagh Road in east Belfast.

ACC Todd said: "No part of this is acceptable and today we are looking at the evidential picture to pursue lines of enquiry".

Police maintained a heavy presence in the area last night over fears of further orchestrated attacks by loyalists at the interface between the Newtownards Road and the mainly nationalist Short Strand.

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