Northern Ireland

Concerns over loyalist bonfire at north Belfast interface

A bonfire near the interface at Duncairn Gardens in north Belfast
A bonfire near the interface at Duncairn Gardens in north Belfast A bonfire near the interface at Duncairn Gardens in north Belfast

CONCERNS are mounting about a loyalist bonfire being constructed close to a north Belfast interface.

The pyre, erected on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens, has increased in size in recent days.

It is close to an interface gate along the street, which separates the predominantly unionist Tigers Bay area from the nationalist New Lodge.

The entryway is also beside a chemist and a business park.

Police said they are working with other public bodies and community representatives "to address community and safety issues".

In recent weeks there have been reports of residents being targeted in the adjacent Lepper Street area of the New Lodge, including cars being vandalised.

It is understood efforts have been made to have the interface gate closed earlier in the evenings.

Read More: Loyalist group urges people to remain home amid calls to rebuild bonfires

Last month, graffiti was daubed on a wall along Duncairn Gardens warning against attempts to remove a bonfire.

The graffiti in black lettering read: "If this boney goes so does NLR," believed to be a reference to the New Lodge Road area.

Sprayed in lighter paint beside this was 'KAT', the sectarian slur meaning 'Kill All Taigs'.

Belfast City Council said it is aware of concerns around the bonfire.

"While the bonfire on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens is not on council-owned land, we are aware of material being gathered at this site," a spokeswoman said.

"We are also aware of ongoing engagement at a local level around concerns.

"Belfast City Council's approach to managing bonfires is led by elected members and council will continue to work in partnership with elected members and key stakeholders, including statutory partners and the community to address safety concerns."

The council also said that on Sunday, it facilitated the removal of bonfire materials at nearby Mervue Street at the request of the community.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: "Police are not the lead agency regarding bonfires however we are working with partners including landowners, Belfast City Council, other public and statutory bodies, as well as community representatives, to address community and safety issues."

The Department for Infrastructure said it does not own the land where the bonfire is being constructed.

A spokeswoman said: "The Department for Infrastructure is aware of this site and of the ongoing discussions regarding the construction of the bonfire."

Annual bonfires had been largely cancelled earlier this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but some loyalists have since resumed construction ahead of the Eleventh Night.

A bonfire is being rebuilt at Lismore Street in east Belfast, while a new pyre is also expected at Avoniel leisure centre – which last summer was the focus of a stand-off between police and bonfire builders.

Both sites had just weeks ago been cleared of bonfire materials by council contractors in efforts supported by members of the community.

In recent days a loyalist grouping called the East Belfast Cultural Collective said it would not be seeking to prevent loyalists collecting for bonfires.

It urged participants to adhere to public health regulations, and advised that pyres should be small, positioned to keep property safe and not include tyres or other rubbish.

However, others such as Rev Mervyn Gibson, from Westbourne Presbyterian Church in east Belfast, have said loyalists should abandon efforts to rebuild bonfires.