Northern Ireland news

PSNI defends leaving first bonfire meeting before councillors arrived

A bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast last year
Brendan Hughes

THE PSNI has defended leaving Belfast's first meeting of the year on bonfires before delayed councillors turned up.

Senior police officers were due to meet councillors, community representatives and other statutory agencies to help plan for the summer bonfire season.

But when party representatives were held up by a prior engagement, police left before the meeting began.

Their exit is being viewed by some as a shaky start to discussions on how to handle bonfire issues which may arise over the summer months.

However, police said they had to leave before the meeting began because of another scheduled appointment.

The joint meeting on bonfires – the first multi-agency bonfire meeting of the year involving councillors and community representatives – was held on January 30 at Belfast City Hall.

Party representatives were believed to have been around 15 minutes late for the meeting, sources claimed.

It is understood police had left by the time they had arrived but the meeting still went ahead as scheduled and was described as “productive”.

In a statement a PSNI spokeswoman said: “Police attended a scheduled meeting with community representatives, other statutory agencies and elected party group leaders to discuss potential issues around bonfires in summer 2020.

“Due to the party leaders being delayed at a previous meeting, and with another scheduled appointment to attend, police had to leave before the meeting began. “Police remain committed to working with various partners including local councils and other public and statutory bodies, as well as community representatives, to address any community safety issue issues linked to bonfires.”

Last year saw tensions escalate over numerous bonfires in the north.

In July a pyre at an east Belfast leisure centre was at the focus of a stand-off with loyalists over council efforts to remove it, while in August police were injured at a bonfire site in north Belfast's mainly nationalist New Lodge area.

Just before Christmas, trees were planted on top of a notorious UVF-linked bonfire site at east Belfast's Bloomfield Walkway as part of £190,000 landscaping works which involved flat land being changed to low hummocks.

Some of the young trees were planted on top of these grassy mounds as part of efforts believed to be aimed at discouraging bonfire builders.

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