Leading article

Action needed over bonfire threat

It is wrong at every level that, at a time of growing political tension across our divided society, the authorities are still having to respond to the construction of unauthorised and highly dangerous bonfires.

There can be no doubt that both loyalist and republicans have previously caused upheaval over the practice of piling up combustible materials in urban areas and setting them alight without regard to health and safety considerations.

It is equally clear that the latest issues can be directly linked to attempts by loyalist extremists to engineer confrontations over their opposition to the introduction of an Irish Sea border as a direct result of the DUP-endorsed Brexit debacle.

Reports have indicated that bonfires which were already intimidating have actually been increased in size, in some places involving the entirely illegal use of large amounts of tyres with completely unacceptable environmental consequences.

Some have been deliberately located in flashpoint districts, in one case within touching distance of a Belfast peace line where associated acts of intimidation have followed.

A threatening pyre has actually been built beside a main fire station, on the site of a former primary school in Newtownards, Co Down, without any permission from educational officials.

Loyalists have insisted that it has been placed there for some years during the July 12 period, and has bizarrely been given some form of civic grants, but have failed to explain why it could not be moved to a safer spot elsewhere.

There is no attempt to undermine loyalist culture but there are deep concerns that emergency tenders may have to kept away from their normal base on the most pressurised night of the year, with consequent grave risks not just to property but also to life.

The idea that a fire station might have to be boarded up because of an organised blaze in the middle of a large town must surely alarm politicians from all parties.

There will be relief that one perilous bonfire which was illegally placed on a cycle path was removed in east Belfast in the early hours of yesterday, and there will be a firm expectation that similar actions will be taken elsewhere to protect homes and reduce the risk of sectarian disturbances.

If there is the slightest uncertainty about the powers which are required for such interventions, it is obvious that new legislation is required at Stormont without further delay.

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Leading article