Northern Ireland news

Pallets stacked at notorious loyalist bonfire site – and it's only April

Stacks of pallets at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast yesterday
Brendan Hughes

IT is only the beginning of April, but it appears that for some the bonfire season has already begun.

Stacks of wooden pallets have been gathered in east Belfast at the site of a notorious loyalist pyre.

The pallets have been placed along Bloomfield Walkway between Ravenscroft Avenue and the Upper Newtownards Road.

The Bloomfield Walkway bonfire has been a source of controversy for several years.

Last July masked contractors were sent to remove it after a judge ordered a Stormont department to take action.

The High Court heard that the towering pyre was under the control of "sinister forces" within the east Belfast UVF and posed a serious threat to nearby homes.

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers yesterday urged those involved in collecting the pallets to remove them, saying people feel it is "much too early".

"I would urge those who are responsible to please remove them as soon as possible," the Ormiston area councillor said.

"We're only at the beginning of April and we're still several months away from July 11 and it's certainly making the area look very unsightly.

"Most unionist representatives are happy for materials to be gathered in June – but certainly not at the beginning of April."

Mr Rodgers said he did not think it was an April Fool prank as he was made aware some days ago about the pallets being collected.

He said he enjoys watching Eleventh Night bonfires himself, but "to get materials this early is not good enough".

"People feel it's much too early. I would hope that those that have been involved in collecting materials would give that serious consideration and have it removed as soon as possible."

Belfast City Council spent more than £4,000 of ratepayers' cash bringing a court case about the Walkway bonfire against the Department for Infrastructure, which owns the land.

Police in riot gear flanked contractors as they cleared materials from the bonfire, which was set alight just as workers moved in to try to remove it.

Stormont and council officials have refused to say how much the contractors cost, but the PSNI's bill to oversee the Walkway operation hit more than £120,000.

The Walkway bonfire was also among four included in a landmark court injunction secured by the council in 2017 following safety concerns over their size.

It also faced controversy after The Irish News revealed the council was storing 2,500 pallets for the bonfire at a separate site, costing ratepayers thousands of pounds. The pallets were later stolen, allegedly by the UDA.

In 2015 the bonfire forced 50 families to flee their homes when it was built further along Bloomfield Walkway next to Chobham Street.

The following year a newly built play park was moved to facilitate the bonfire – at a cost of £6,000.

A Stormont body set up in 2016 to address flags and bonfire issues – the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition – has yet to issue its recommendations.

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