Leading article

Concerns over Bloomfield bonfire still in place

It is depressing that, more than three months ahead of the Twelfth of July period, efforts have already been made to stir up tensions in an area which has been the scene of regular bonfire controversies in recent years.

Residents in the Bloomfield Walkway district, off the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast, have repeatedly expressed serious alarm about the placing of a notorious loyalist pyre in close proximity to their homes.

Up to 50 families had to temporarily move out in 2015 over fears that flames from the enormous and illegal construction could spread to nearby houses with devastating consequences.

An official response was slow to arrive but a significant breakthrough eventually came two years later when the Walkway site was among four covered by a landmark legal injunction secured by Belfast City Council over safety concerns.

There was a bizarre twist when it emerged that the council had actually been storing an estimated 2,500 wooden pallets, intended for subsequent use on the same pyre, at a separate location, from which they were somehow stolen by loyalists.

Matters took a decisive turn last year when the council finally obtained a court order forcing Stormont's Department of Infrastructure, as the owner of the land, to take action over what a judge described as an `out of control' bonfire.

There were dramatic developments on the eve of the Eleventh Night as loyalists started a premature and dangerous blaze in Bloomfield just as contractors protected by police in riot gear moved in to clear the materials which had been piled to a towering height there.

Although a firm intervention by the authorities would have been justified at a much earlier stage, there was a strong sense that at long last the rule of law and order was being applied along the Walkway.

The appearance of stacks of pallets there from the beginning of April, which we reported yesterday, was a provocative gesture, but they were destroyed in another apparently premature overnight fire.

Loyalist elements have since insisted that no substantial bonfire is planned for the Walkway this July, although, as previous similar claims have proved contradictory, events in the neighbourhood will still have to be closely monitored.

It needs to be stressed that sweeping allegations about a threat to loyalist culture are without foundation, and objections are unlikely to surface when pyres observe legal guidelines and are kept to reasonable dimensions

Residents in all sections of the community are fully entitled to expect that their property and indeed their lives will not be endangered by chaotic attempts to build unregulated bonfires either in July or at any other time of the year.

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