Leading article

Threats to bonfire removal contractors appalling

While it is evident considerable progress has been made this year in regard to contentious bonfires, the stand off at Avoniel Leisure Centre in Belfast shows that sinister elements are still trying to bring their malign influence to bear.

Belfast City Council yesterday abandoned an attempt to remove the bonfire which had been built in the car park of its facility in the east of the city after the contractor it had hired pulled out.

In a chilling act of intimidation, graffiti naming individuals appeared close to the site so it was hardly surprising that the business decided to withdraw making it impossible for the council to press on with its planned removal operation.

This intimidation of workers is completely unacceptable but any threats have to be taken seriously given the allegations of paramilitary involvement in the situation at Avoniel.

The PSNI warned the council that intelligence indicated that any attempt to remove bonfire material 'will cause a severe violent confrontation, orchestrated by the UVF.'

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton added: ''The use of firearms during such disorder cannot be ruled out.''

In such circumstances, it was wise to avoid any potential confrontation that could have put people at risk, including children.

The council has called on the police to pursue bonfire builders for trespassing on the leisure centre grounds and while some may choose to claim victory in this particular showdown, it may prove to be shortlived as the site is earmarked for refurbishment with building work due to begin next year.

However, what is significant this year is the clear shift in approach from unionist representatives. There is absolutely no support for the inclusion of tyres while the burning of effigies and flags has also been discouraged.

There is also an increase in the use of beacons rather than towering pyres, which must be seen as a positive step forward.

We are still seeing the huge structures that pose a risk to health and property, such as the one in Corcrain Drive in Portadown where residents were advised to leave their homes, but hopefully these, too, will become a thing of the past.

We need to get to a stage where culture can be celebrated in a safe and lawful way that does not involve paramilitaries, intimidation or a threat to homes, residents or the environment.

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