Northern Ireland news

Belfast bonfire sites cleared after cancellation of annual eleventh night fires

Orangefield Park in east Belfast after wood gathered for a July 11 bonfire was cleared away. Picture by David Young, Press Association
David Young and Rebecca Black, Press Association

A series of loyalist bonfire sites in Belfast have been cleared after organisers cancelled the annual Eleventh Night fires due to coronavirus.

The sites in the east of the city include the grounds of Avoniel leisure centre, which was the focus of a major stand-off between police and bonfire builders last summer.

It was cleared by council workers without incident this week, with the support of members of the local community.

READ MORE: Coronavirus deaths in the north fall for fifth week in a row

Wooden pallets that had been stacked at the site of the Lismore Street fire were removed by contractors early this morning, again without incident.

At Orangefield Park, members of the community cleared the site themselves, with some using the wood to make garden furniture.

Efforts to collect wood for the fires stopped in March when lockdown began.

At the time organisers signalled the cancellation of the July 11 bonfires - for the first time since the Second World War - but pallets that had been stacked prior to the Covid-19 emergency remained on the sites for the last few months.

DUP councillor George Dorrian was on site at Lismore Street today as contractors packed hundreds of pallets on several large lorries.

"The community took a decision with the Covid-19 situation that it wasn't appropriate to go ahead with the bonfires," he told the PA news agency.

"This is indicative of communities across the east, they have listened to what's happening out there, they know the mood, they realise that to have large crowds would not be welcome at this time so each of them have taken a decision in their own right to stand away from bonfires this year and ask the council to help them remove any of the wood that had been collected."

Bonfire material on waste ground at Lismore Street in Belfast

A spokesman for East Belfast Cultural Collective, an umbrella group that represents bonfire builders, welcomed the moves.

"East Belfast ACT (Action for Community Transformation) Initiative working in partnership with East Belfast Cultural Collective has been positively engaging since the middle of March on bonfire related issues," he said.

"The young people have been receptive to the public health messaging and have positively directed their energies into providing assistance to elderly and vulnerable members of the community.

"We would pay tribute to the young bonfire builders who have shown great maturity and demonstrated how much they care about their communities. This is a fact often lost in the yearly demonisation of these young people.

"ACT and EBCC have worked with the young bonfire builders at Orangefield, Avoniel and Lismore Avenue and this has resulted in the sites staying clear and regular engagement with statutory agencies, including PSNI and Belfast City Council.

"There was some wood materials which had gathered on sites in early March, prior to Covid 19 taking hold. A community decision was made on 20th March that there would be no further collection."

He said that at Orangefield Park pallets were given to some members of the community who "turned the wood into garden furniture".

The spokesman added: "In recent days the bonfire sites at Avoniel and Lismore Avenue have both been cleared with community consent and the support of the bonfire groups, East Belfast ACT and EBCC. This is another example of extremely positive leadership within the community and partnership working with young people and statutory agencies."

The spokesman said the health of the community was the "number one priority" over bonfire season, insisting celebrations of culture needed to be carried out in a "safe and dignified manner".

Belfast City Council welcomed the community engagement involved in the clearances.

"Belfast City Council's approach to managing bonfires is led by its elected members and a process has been agreed to consider issues and make decisions on a site by site basis," said a spokeswoman.

"We continue to engage with community representatives to minimise any potential negative impact of bonfires on local residents.

"Belfast City Council is pleased to have worked with elected members and community representatives in the clearance of bonfire material at Lismore and Avoniel this week."

In relation to the Orangefield site, she added: "We are pleased to see the Orangefield site is now clear of bonfire materials and the efforts of all involved are appreciated.

"We recognise, particularly in these challenging times, how important our parks and open spaces are in the life of the city."

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