Northern Ireland

Two or three bonfire sites causing concern, say police

The bonfire in Newtownards is one that has been identified as causing concern. Picture by Pacemaker 
The bonfire in Newtownards is one that has been identified as causing concern. Picture by Pacemaker 

Two or three loyalist bonfire sites are “causing concern”, a senior police officer has said.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said that is in the context of around 250 pyres being built at sites across Northern Ireland ahead of the annual July 12 commemorations.

A bonfire has appeared near a peace line in north Belfast and another is close to a fire station in Newtownards, Co Down.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne emphasised that the role of police is to facilitate contractors employed by the body which owns the land the bonfire is on to remove it.

During a meeting of the Policing Board, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly raised the issue of the pyre being built close to the peace line at Duncairn Gardens, between the New Lodge and Tiger’s Bay areas.

He claimed it has been used as a platform to throw golf balls from the loyalist side of the divide towards homes on the nationalist side, in some cases breaking windows or damaging cars.

“The problem with this one is very specific – it has been shifted in the last couple of years to the interface to have an effect not on Tiger’s Bay but on the New Lodge, and it is having an effect there,” he said.

Mr Kelly pressed Mr Byrne on what police will do to stop the bonfire going ahead in its present location.

Mr Byrne said that site is the “most contentious” of the bonfire issues this year.

“We continue to work with the ministerial departments that have ownership of the land, which is the first point of resolution to this,” he said.

“We’re just here to facilitate any removal of the bonfire by contractors, not to get involved with doing it ourselves.”

Mr Todd added: “The work around community resolution to this has continued up until as recently as yesterday, and I’ll be getting a readout from those meetings and talking to my own team and our partners today and the rest of this week as we plan for what may or may not be required … but at this stage I wouldn’t want to comment any further.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said he has written to Health Minister Robin Swann asking that he requests the PSNI remove the bonfire close to the fire station in Newtownards.

“The erection of a bonfire extremely close to a fire station in Newtownards is deeply concerning,” he said.

“The 11th of July is the busiest night of the year for our fire service and this bonfire which could impede on their work and capacity to fulfil their duty to protect citizens is not only totally reckless, but outright dangerous.

“I have written to Health Minister Robin Swann raising these very serious concerns and asking that the minister requests an urgent intervention by the PSNI to remove this dangerous bonfire.”

A spokesman for Ards and North Down Council said the authority is aware of the bonfire on land which is does not own.

He added that there has been a bonfire in that location for a “number of years” and the council has been encouraging the builder to reduce its size.

In Co Tyrone last month a group of bonfire-builders offered residents “thermal protection” for their homes.

Moygashel Bonfire Association (MBA), which is constructing a huge bonfire on waste ground near a housing estate in the village outside Dungannon, said “customised thermal deflectors” will be fitted on windows by qualified tradesmen to protect against heat damage.