Northern Ireland

Loyalists meet bonfire builders after racist slogan appears in east Belfast

The 'Foreigners Out' slogan on bonfire material in east Belfast was removed on Tuesday
The 'Foreigners Out' slogan on bonfire material in east Belfast was removed on Tuesday

A MEETING was arranged on Tuesday night between senior loyalists and young people linked to a controversial bonfire that was used to display a racist slogan.

'Foreigners Out' was painted on a wooden pallet propped up beside material collected at Connswater Community Greenway close to Ravenscroft Avenue in east Belfast.

The offensive slogan was removed by members of the East Belfast ACT project on Tuesday.

Sources claimed police were still 'negotiating' with bonfire builders when members of the group, which includes UVF ex-prisoners as members, intervened.

Last year homes had to be evacuated and boarded up when a huge bonfire threatened to set fire to properties at nearby Chobham Street.

Talks with bonfire builders over the last number of months aimed to ensure the pyre was moved this year and significantly reduced in size.

However, loyalist community worker Jim Wilson claimed the problems are down to a group of young people who are "putting two fingers up to loyalism".

"While I know the media have a job to do in covering these events, the people responsible for this bonfire are literally revelling in the attention," he said.

"They've continued to up the ante in order to attract negative attention to that area and their actions are being done with no respect for that community and the people who live there.

"The Loyalist Communities Council came up with bonfire protocols and they clearly called for respect for culture and community.

"Racist slogans and the negative attention they are bringing on the area is clearly not respectful and is damaging to that community and should not be seen as anything to do with loyalism".

The new bonfire site is close to a playground, with play equipment being removed by the council last week to prevent it being damaged.

Six fire appliances and 35 firefighters were required at Chobham Street last July when the bonfire was lit and toppled over.

Alliance East Belfast councillor David Armitage described the racist slogan as a "complete disgrace".

"The vast majority of local people will join me in condemning this disgusting slogan, which is unrepresentative of the east Belfast area," he said.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said: "We're really concerned. We were assured after last year's bonfire that there would not be a bonfire again on that site and that's not the case."

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said he made contact with community representatives as soon as he was made aware of the sign.

"Over the last 12 months I have been working on an ongoing basis to resolve problems around bonfires in east Belfast, particularly the type of community safety issues witnessed last year.

"It is vital that this engagement continues, but unfortunately individuals can undo some of the progress that has been made."

PSNI Inspector Keith Hutchinson confirmed that police received a report of offensive graffiti spray-painted on a pallet at a bonfire near Ravenscroft Avenue on Monday evening, "which has since been removed".

"We are currently investigating this matter.”

Meanwhile, concern has been expressed about a bonfire being constructed close to homes and a hotel in the Sandy Row area.

Last year the bonfire, which has in the past caused roads around the city centre location to be closed, was prematurely set on fire.

A bonfire close to Belfast City Hospital was also in the early stages of construction on Tuesday.

The Donegall Road entrance to the busy site has been closed in previous years because of the pyre.