Northern Ireland news

Belfast council spends thousands on legal action against loyalist bonfire

A police presence at the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire in July after it was set alight before contractors were due to remove it. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL spent more than £4,000 of ratepayers' money bringing another public body to court for failing to restrict an "out of control" loyalist bonfire.

Masked contractors were sent to remove the notorious east Belfast bonfire in July after a judge ordered the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to intervene.

The High Court heard the towering pyre was under the control of "sinister forces" within the east Belfast UVF and posed a serious threat to nearby homes.

Belfast City Council brought the case against DfI due to the bonfire being built on the Stormont department's land at Bloomfield Walkway.

It has now been revealed following a Freedom of Information request by The Irish News that the legal action cost the council a total of £4,245.50.

The spending included £4,000 on barrister fees and £245.50 on court costs.

Police in riot gear flanked contractors as they cleared materials from the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire, which was set alight just as contractors moved in to try to remove it.

DfI also sent contractors before the Eleventh Night to dismantle a bonfire at Cluan Place after fire crews raised concerns over its closeness to properties.

The Stormont department and Belfast City Council (BCC) have both refused to disclose the cost of deploying contractors, insisting that rates are "commercial in confidence".

However, the public bodies reached an agreement on how to split the costs between the taxpayer-funded department and city ratepayers.

DfI agreed to pay for 70 per cent of the contractors' bill for the Bloomfield Walkway clearance and BCC the remaining 30 per cent, while DfI pledged to pick up the entire cost for Cluan Place.

In October police confirmed their costs to oversee the removal of the materials at Bloomfied Walkway hit £121,457 and at Cluan Place £67,261.

The PSNI said it mounted a "significant policing operation" at both sites to assist statutory agencies.

The Bloomfield Walkway bonfire has been a source of controversy for several years.

It was among four included in a landmark court injunction secured by BCC in 2017 following safety concerns over their towering size.

Properties were boarded up in July 2017 as the Eleventh Night pyre was built in a public car park off Ravenscroft Avenue.

It also faced controversy after The Irish News revealed the council was storing 2,500 pallets for the bonfire at a separate site, costing ratepayers thousands of pounds. The pallets were later stolen, allegedly by the UDA.

In 2015 the bonfire forced 50 families to flee their homes when it was built further along Bloomfield Walkway next to Chobham Street.

The following year a newly built play park was moved to facilitate the bonfire – at a cost of £6,000.

A Stormont body set up in 2016 to address flags and bonfire issues – the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) – has yet to issue its recommendations.

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