Northern Ireland news

Jamie Bryson tells of plan to scale back loyalist bonfire as pallets are removed

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, and right, pallets removed from Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast in recent days
Brendan Hughes

PALLETS set alight at a notorious loyalist bonfire site in east Belfast have been removed.

Firefighters were called three times overnight to extinguish materials set ablaze at Bloomfield Walkway – months before the Eleventh Night.

The Irish News reported yesterday how stacks of wooden pallets had been gathered in recent days at the bonfire site, which has been a source of controversy for several years.

Last July masked contractors were sent to remove the pyre flanked by police at a cost to taxpayers of more than £120,000.

A High Court judge had ordered Stormont officials to intervene after hearing that "sinister forces" in the east Belfast UVF controlled the towering pyre and it posed a serious threat to nearby homes.

Pallets at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast on Monday, and right, the scene the following day

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson yesterday said "local agreement" has been reached that there "will not be any substantial large bonfire on the Walkway this year".

He said an "alternative site" has been identified, and any pyre at the Walkway this July would be a "small token bonfire" incorporated into a children's party.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said it was called to the area three times overnight – shortly before 9pm and around 9.20pm on Monday, and after half past midnight yesterday.

In the first call-out, firefighters dealt with bonfire materials but they were "not fully extinguished due to large number of youths in the area", it said.

Crews were called again for about 10 minutes to tackle a "small quantity of bonfire materials on fire", and on a third occasion for about half an hour to deal with a "large quantity of pallets on fire".

Belfast City Council said it worked with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), which owns the land, as well as councillors and community representatives to remove materials from the site yesterday morning.

Stacks of pallets at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast on Monday

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

Mr Bryson told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show yesterday there were "ongoing discussions with the young people in the area".

He said if there is a Walkway bonfire in July, it will be a "small token bonfire".

Mr Bryson said it would be "incorporated into a children's party and it certainly will not be anything of the size nor scale of last year".

"A larger bonfire, an alternative safe site away from people's homes, has been identified for that," he said.

Belfast council spent more than £4,000 of ratepayers' cash bringing a court case against landowners DfI about the Walkway bonfire.

Police in riot gear flanked contractors as they cleared materials from the bonfire, which was set alight just as contractors 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 operation hit more than £120,000.

A bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in east Belfast last year. Picture by Mal McCann

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

Police at Bloomfield Walkway bonfire last year after it was set alight prematurely following a court order to remove it. Picture by Mal McCann

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