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Bonfire crackdown welcomed

The violence of recent days, while not as intense as in previous marching seasons, underlines the fact that sinister elements are still at work in Northern Ireland and are trying to exert control in their local communities.

We have seen that with the disgraceful rioting in Derry which has also included the sectarian targeting of homes, hijackings and shots fired in a bid to kill police officers.

In this case dissident republicans are being blamed for the gun attack on the PSNI and for exploiting young people in their bid to heighten tensions and cause divisions in a city where community relations have been generally positive.

Appalling scenes were also witnessed in east Belfast and north Down as loyalist paramilitaries engaged in serious disorder on July 11, hijacking a bus with terrified passengers on board and later setting it alight in Newtownards and throwing a pipe bomb into the Short Strand area, thankfully not causing any injuries.

A number of cars were burned out including two placed close to the Ulster Hospital which has a busy accident and emergency department.

A security alert also closed the Sydenham bypass, affecting passengers at Belfast City Airport.

The violence came as police escorted outside contractors as they dismantled a dangerous bonfire in east Belfast, a move that many people will feel was long overdue.

For too many years the authorities have tolerated towering structures which present a hazard to people and property.

Loyalists tend to characterise any attempts to impose restrictions on these bonfires as at attack on their culture when in fact it is local residents who are concerned about the pyres. Any attempt to reduce risk is only sensible and should be supported.

What is often overlooked is the cost to the public purse of dealing with the aftermath of bonfires and Eleventh Night incidents.

By 1am on Thursday, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service had received a total of 327 emergency calls, mobilised to 164 incidents, 57 of which were bonfire related.

The service said this was a 23 per cent increase on incidents attended last year.

We know that this time of year will place enormous demands on the emergency services but rather than accepting it we should be trying to find ways to mitigate the size and location of bonfires, ensuring public safety is paramount.

This week provides evidence of a change in attitude from the authorities with legal action coming ahead of an operation involving outside contractors and the PSNI.

A senior officer also issued a warning of violence, specifically naming the east Belfast UVF.

These are significant developments which hopefully herald a tougher approach towards those engaged in criminality and intimidation.

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