Northern Ireland

Nationalist residents in north Belfast describe living beside loyalist bonfire as 'a nightmare'

The view of a loyalist bonfire from the nationalist New Lodge area of north Belfast
The view of a loyalist bonfire from the nationalist New Lodge area of north Belfast

INFRASTRUCTURE minister Nichola Mallon has said there should be no Eleventh Night bonfire at a north Belfast interface.

Residents and politicians have called for material at Adam Street, between the nationalist New Lodge and loyalist Tigers Bay districts, to be removed.

The bonfire is built on land under the responsibility of Ms Mallon’s department.

The Department for Infrastructure last night said said it had requested the assistance of police in a "potential removal operation".

Ms Mallon who is an SDLP MLA for north Belfast, has held several meetings with her Department for Communities counterpart Deirdre Hargey and justice chief Naomi Long this week to discuss the issue.

She last night said that the bonfire should not go ahead.

"I want to find a local resolution but I am very clear there should be no bonfire anywhere on an interface site here in Northern Ireland," she told the BBC.

She didn’t rule out the possibility of legal action stressing she didn’t want to "get to that point".

It is believed nationalist residents may launch their own action against the PSNI if it fails to intervene.

Local people in the Fortfield Place and Meadows Place districts of New Lodge, which directly face the bonfire site, last night said they are forced to endure a steady stream of sectarian abuse from bonfire

builders who can see into the district from the top of the pyre.

Residents also say that the playing of loud loyalist and rave music around the site is keeping them awake at night.

One local man, who did not want to be identified, said people are frightened.

“People say ‘it’s only for the Eleventh', but it’s not, the minute they start collecting for wood, that’s when things totally change.”

The concerned resident said bricks and bottles are regularly launched over the peace wall forcing people to remain indoors and to park their cars out of the target zone.

“We have bought swings and a slide for the grandchildren but there’s no way you can put them out,” he said.

A mother-of-three explained that her children are unable to use the front door of their home in case they are attacked by loyalist missile throwers or verbally abused.

“My wee girl asked be the other day ‘what is a Fenian’,” she said.

“She is 13 and goes to an integrated school.

“My middle one (aged eight) keeps asking me ‘when are the bad boys lighting the fire.”

The woman said she has lived in the area for seven years but that the atmosphere in the area has changed since a nearby peace wall was replaced last year and now partly includes see-through fencing.

“The wall is not high enough and it needs to be blocked,” she said.

Sinn Féin councillor JJ Magee spoke of his hope that the bonfire can be removed.

"It is unacceptable that families are living in fear in their own homes and I would hope that calm and common sense would prevail and that this bonfire can be removed," he said.

A spokesman for the PSNI said: “Police received a report of loud music being played in the Duncairn Gardens area of north Belfast in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

“Officers attended the area and observed a small group of people in the area, no issues were detected or music heard.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said: “Departmental officials met nearby residents over recent days to discuss emerging concerns as a result of recent interface trouble.”

The Department for Infrastructure said it considered it "unacceptable to have a bonfire in the vicinity of the interface at Adam Street and we have requested the assistance of the PSNI in relation to a potential removal operation".

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has called for an urgent meeting with the health and education ministers to talk about the impact of attacks on children.

"The ongoing attacks on homes the New Lodge area coming from a loyalist bonfire site are leaving children terrified in their own homes and afraid to go outside," she said.

"I have written to the ministers of health and education, as well as the mental health champion and the commissioner for children calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the impact on these children and what can be done about it."