Northern Ireland news

East Belfast Cultural Collective established to 'support' bonfires 'targeted by authorities'

Police presence at the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire after it was set alight prematurely as contractors were about to remove it. Picture by Mal McCann

Loyalists have formed a new group to 'advocate' for traditional bonfires.

The`East Belfast Cultural Collective' (EBCC) represents 13 bonfires in the east Belfast and Ards/North Down area and is "designed to offer advocacy support to isolated or smaller bonfires who have been targeted by statutory agencies".

A spokesman said its work, which comes under the umbrella of the East Belfast Community Initiative, will "feed into wider positive transition work ongoing within east Belfast".

"There are often concerns that statutory agencies try to criminalise bonfires and/or isolate groups," he said.

Read More: Funding for Belfast groups agreed in £500,000 bonfire scheme

"The objective of the collective is to provide one strategic voice for all the bonfires under the umbrella. Statutory agencies will no longer be able to hold closed doors discussions with different bonfires and representatives."

The group will liaise with statutory agencies one behalf of all member bonfires.

EBCC said east Belfast loyalists feel "betrayed" by the way the bonfire situation was dealt with last year after they had "worked incredibly hard on bonfires and flags issues".

Read More: Council to appoint bonfire consultants

Loyalists set fire to the controversial bonfire on Bloomfield Walkway on July 10 and attacked police after a court ordered the pyre be reduced in size.

Contractors, hired from outside Northern Ireland, had been on standby to lift material from the site following safety concerns.

"It is important to note that the independent mediators report praised the work of loyalists in seeking to defuse tensions," the EBCC spokesman said.

All the bonfire groups in the collective have "reaffirmed their commitment to the positive celebration of unionist culture" and the "broader principles of transitional work within loyalism... to provide a pathway for ex-combatants and others to engage in positive and purely lawful community activism".

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson said this reaffirmation "should be welcomed" in a social media post.

It was also confirmed that last year's flag protocol - including a commitment to only `legal flags' and a time-frame for their erection and removal - will remain in place for 2019.

The bonfires included are: Avoniel, Braniel, Clarawood, Cregagh, Newtownards Road, Orangefield, London Road, Ballybeen, Bloomfield Walkway, Inverary, Ravenhill, Clonduff and West Winds.

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