Northern Ireland news

Bonfire near Newtownards fire station built 'without consent' of landowner

A bonfire has been built close to a fire station in Newtownards, Co Down. Picture from Pacemaker

A LARGE bonfire near a Co Down fire station was built without the landowner's permission.

There are fears that the bonfire in Newtownards poses a risk to life and property and will impede firefighters on duty.

The Eleventh Night, when bonfires are usually lit, is one of the busiest nights of the year for fire crews.

The bonfire site, in the grounds of the former Castle Gardens Primary School, is owned by the Education Authority.

Police cannot remove contentious bonfires but they can facilitate contractors employed by landowners to dismantle them.

A spokeswoman for the Education Authority (EA) said it had been "recently been made aware of a bonfire on the site of the former Castle Gardens Primary School".

"We remain neutral on such cultural festivals and can confirm that the construction of this bonfire is without consent," she said.

"We continue to work with Community Officers in Ards and North Down Borough Council and with the PSNI’s Neighbourhood Policing Team to achieve the best outcome for the local community.”

There are fears that windows at the fire station may have to be boarded up to prevent damage from the bonfire.

However, it is understood the Fire Service has not yet decided whether to board up the station.

In the past, other bonfires deemed to threaten life and/or property have been removed a few days before the Eleventh Night.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) said: "We can confirm that plans are in place to ensure emergency cover is maintained within the Newtownards area and across the Service.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely."

The bonfire is within the Ards and North Down Borough Council area.

A council spokeswoman said the land on which the bonfire has been built is not owned by the council.

"I can confirm that council is aware of this site which is on land owned by the Department of Education," she said.

It came as the PSNI said up to three major bonfire sites are "causing concern".

It is understood one of those includes the Newtownards bonfire, as well as one built close to a peace line at Duncairn Gardens, between the New Lodge and Tigers Bay areas of north Belfast.

During a meeting of the Policing Board yesterday, Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said golf balls had been thrown towards homes on the nationalist side of the peace line, breaking windows or damaging cars.

He asked Chief Constable Simon Byrne what action police will take to remove the pyre.

Mr Byrne emphasised that police can only facilitate contractors employed by whoever owns the site to remove the bonfire.

"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."

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has written to health minister Robin Swann to raise concerns about the Newtownards bonfire.

The Department of Health is responsible for monitoring the Fire and Rescue Service's performance.

"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," Mr Gildernew said.

"This is a life-saving service which could be hampered by this bonfire.

He added: "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."

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