Northern Ireland news

Bonfire siege youth 'has no regrets'

A youth who refused to leave a north Belfast bonfire has no regrets
Connla Young

One the teenagers who sparked yesterday’s bonfire stand-off in north Belfast after scaling a pyre says he has no regrets.

The 18-year-old, who is from north Belfast, was one of two youths who climbed to the top of an anti-internment bonfire after police moved into the New Lodge area early yesterday morning.

Dozens of PSNI officers in riot gear sought to protect contractors as they prepared to remove pallets built on a grassy area close to nearby flats.

Violence broke out on several occasions during the day as tensions rose.

Police were eventually forced into a climb-down when they pulled out of the republican district yesterday afternoon.

The controversial pyre, erected to commemorate the introduction of internment in 1971, was due to be lit at midnight last night.

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Earlier in the day there were dramatic scenes as the two youths set up a siege at the top of the pyre.

Speaking to the Irish News last night one of the teenagers remained defiant.

He explained that he had been in the New Lodge area for the previous three days helping to build the pyre and that young people were already at work lifting pallets when police arrived at 5am on Thursday.

“I build the bonfire because the New Lodge did have a lot of people ripped from their homes (during internment), I feel they have to be commemorated,” he said.

“It’s defiance against the British state as well.

“Republicans still need to be remembered, to this day there are still people in jail.

“I feel like I am standing up for the republican movement, there are people who have abandoned the republican agenda.”

He claimed that bonfire builders had been offered 250 tickets for a Féile-linked events in a bid to divert them away from the pyre.

“I don’t think Féile is a way to commemorate interned prisoners,” he said.

“I don’t care about Féile.

“It does not commemorate internment.”

He said he and his companions had no interest in a Féile dance event held in the Falls Park last night, claiming drugs would be taken by some.

The teenager revealed that after the stand-off began police and the Housing Executive officials both contacted his mother seeking her intervention.

He maintained last night he had no hesitation in taking the stand he did.

“I knew if I stayed up there they can’t take the bonfire down,” he said.

“They can’t send in the contractors.”

He said that police negotiators sent in to speak to him appeared to know little about the local area.

“I said ‘the only time I am coming down is if every cop jeep leaves and the only car left is your own’,” he said.

“If they were still there I would still be there.”

The teenager claimed that during negotiations police offered to help him with his criminal record if he climbed off the pyre.

He also revealed that he had intended lighting the bonfire himself at midnight and that he had petrol and fire lighters with him at the top of the pyre.

“I was only coming down at 12 when it was on fire,” he said.

He also revealed that bonfire builders had used scaffolding poles during the construction of the bonfire in a bid to make sure that when lit it fell away from nearby flats onto a nearby road.

Asked how he felt about people being told they needed to leave their homes because of the bonfire he said: “People don’t have to leave their houses."

He said that while on the bonfire local people threw him and his companion food and water.

The teenager said the other young person who had camped out on top of the bonfire with him had only arrived a short time before the PSNI descended on the area.

The second youth later climbed off the pyre in order to receive medication for health issue.

He was later joined by two more youths who managed to scramble up the bonfire after trouble broke out between local youths and police.

The teen accepted there are divided opinions on the bonfire.

“The community does support the bonfire, I know not everyone supports it,” he said.

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