Leading article

Work needs to start now on dealing with next year's bonfires

With this year's internment anniversary now passed, it is a good time for Belfast City Council, statutory agencies, politicians and community representatives to take stock of the summer's events in relation to bonfires.

There were clear positives over the Twelfth period in terms of parades with none of the trouble and increased tensions associated with the contentious marches of previous years and that progress should not be underestimated.

We all benefit from a more peaceful atmosphere and the absence of parades-related violence can only be regarded as helpful as we look towards the resumption of political talks.

The key issue this summer has been bonfires and how we address those that are unwanted or hazardous.

Belfast City Council did make some legal efforts aimed at trying to take control of the situation but it was probably too late and largely ineffective.

Sinn Féin successfully brought forward a motion last week to allow staff or contractors to remove bonfire material from public or private land and this was quickly put to the test in respect of anti-internment bonfires in nationalist areas.

The fact that these pyres do not have community support was ignored by small groups of young people who were determined to build and rebuild large structures even after pallets were seized.

Unfortunately, disturbances broke out on Monday in the Markets area when a council contractor removed wood from a bonfire site.

In disgraceful scenes, a number of cars were set alight and police officers attacked. The disorder spread to the Divis area where bonfire material had earlier been removed by workers supported by the PSNI.

Later in the evening a disused Credit Union building was burned out while trouble continued in the area for some time.

There was further trouble in nationalist districts on Tuesday night but not on the same scale as the previous day.

The PSNI has vowed to bring the perpetrators of this violence and destruction to court while also urging parents to take responsibility for their children, with 12-year-olds said to be involved in the disturbances.

As well as attacking police, thugs also targeted council staff and vehicles, which must be totally condemned.

A contractor hired by the council to remove bonfire material has now quit citing health and safety reasons and there will be understandable concern for any workers caught up in violent incidents.

Faced with such appalling intimidation, it is difficult for the council to secure the services of an outside contractor.

Clearly, any business that takes on this contract must be reassured that the police will provide an appropriate level of protection.

This issue will come around again next summer which is why it is essential that discussions begin now to find the best way to deal with the dangerous and unwanted bonfires.

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