Tensions rise at loyalist bonfire on north Belfast interface
Tensions are escalating over a loyalist bonfire beside a north Belfast interface
Police and fire crews were at the scene yesterday as youths continued to stack pallets atop the bonfire, which has been constructed on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens.
The Eleventh Night pyre is beside a peace line gate along the street, which separates the predominantly unionist Tigers Bay area from the nationalist New Lodge.
The entryway is also adjacent to a chemist and a business park.
There were claims yesterday that petrol bombs had been thrown towards the bonfire. It was also claimed youths had been chased into the New Lodge by a gang wielding baseball bats.
One resident told how bricks and bottles were thrown at him as he walked his dog past the site.
It is understood the interface gates on both sides of the street are being shut until next week in a bid to prevent further trouble.
City councillors met yesterday to discuss concerns about several bonfires.
Annual pyres had been largely cancelled earlier this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but some have since resumed construction ahead of the Eleventh Night.
Residents reported seeing a group of men, some with baseball bats, chasing youths into the New Lodge area yesterday morning.
Police confirmed last night that they are investigating reports that three teenage boys threw petrol bombs at the bonfire site just after 7.10am yesterday.
Police said the boys were then chased towards Lepper Street by a group of young people, some of whom were carrying pieces of wood.
The boys are described as between 15 and 18. One wore a black jacket, one wore a grey jacket and the third wore a navy North Face tracksuit.
All three had their faces covered and one was wearing sunglasses.
Chief Inspector Kelly Moore said: “While I would appeal to anyone who witnessed this incident this morning to contact us with information, I again appeal for parents and guardians of young people to please ensure you know where your young people are and what they are doing.
“Police are working with local representatives, partner agencies and members of the community to address this issue, and appeal to everyone in the area to help diffuse any local tensions and prevent any further incidents criminal or anti-social behaviour.
“We have increased patrols of local police in the area, who will be supported by our Tactical Support Group colleagues."
She asked anyone with information to contact police on 101.
A fire service official said their attendance was an operational visit for crews to familiarise themselves with the site.
In recent weeks there have been reports of residents being targeted in the adjacent Lepper Street area of the New Lodge, including cars being vandalised.
One resident told The Irish News he was targeted by youths hurling bricks and bottles as he walked along Duncairn Gardens past the bonfire on Monday.
"Just as I passed Lepper Street and Adam Street a hail of bricks and bottles came at me from the loyalists building the bonfire in Tigers Bay," said the resident, who did not wish to be named.
"I am not a youth, I am a man of 50, yet they still targeted me.
"I also watched as they threw full-size bricks at three or four small children who were walking through the gate into the New Lodge side.
"These kids were aged about eight to 10, and it was a miracle that none of them were hit."
Another resident said a van was seen delivering pallets to the site this week, during which an interface gate for vehicular access had been opened.
He questioned whether the entryway had been opened to allow materials to be delivered.
"I know the small pedestrian gate has to be opened for people to access the chemist, but the opening of the other gate is just ridiculous," he said.
The bonfire is situated on land owned by the Department for Communities.
A spokeswoman said: "The department does not own or have responsibility for the interface gates and has no knowledge of the gates being opened to facilitate the delivery of pallets."
Earlier this week, police in north Belfast said they were responding to regular reports of groups of young people congregating in different locations, with some becoming involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour.
Chief Inspector Kelly Moore said: "Young people who choose to engage in anti-social behaviour must understand it is unacceptable and must stop. People have a right to live in peace and to feel safe in their communities."