Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Intimidated residents in shadow of huge bonfires want action from MLAs

Ballycraigy bonfire collapses
Ballycraigy bonfire collapses
Ballycraigy bonfire collapses
Ballycraigy bonfire collapses
Ballycraigy bonfire collapses
Ballycraigy bonfire collapses

Fed-up householders and a DUP Assembly Member are calling for Stormont departments to finally get a grip on the annual problems associated with Eleventh Night bonfires.

The calls have come after a sprawling bonfire in Antrim town collapsed twice in a week dangerously close to residents' oil tanks.

Despite the predictability of this controversial issue, each year sees a handful of massive bonfires built too close to houses to be safe, while others contain toxic materials such as tyres.

As the authorities dodge calls to take action, residents are often too afraid to speak out for fear of being harassed or intimidated.

One DUP MLA said the authorities see problems around loyalist bonfires as an unsolvable "hornets' nest" to be avoided.

Some sources say a trend towards bigger bonfires this year has been linked to anger over the restrictions on the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.

But residents living closest to them say they fear for their safety – and question who will deal with the aftermath of towering structures packed with tyres.

Fear of intimidation prevents residents of Antrim's Ballycraigy estate from speaking out against the bonfire that has already collapsed twice. Graffiti around the estate warns against removing tyres from the Housing Executive-owned site.

But, privately, residents have described the towering mass – which was said to be the size of a two-storey building before it fell – as an eyesore and a health hazard, positioned yards from residents' homes.

Today, the Housing Executive will bring skips into the loyalist estate in an attempt to provide a buffer to protect properties.

"People are fed up with the size of the bonfire and all these flags that have gone up," one resident said.

Another added: "I would have concerns for people if it collapsed again. A woman in one of those houses (backing on to the bonfire site) is elderly and disabled and she has an oil tank, so she would be quite bothered about it.

"But there's not a thing you can do, unless you want your windows or door put in."

Meanwhile, the South Eastern Education and Library Board is also in talks after a 35ft-high fire was built without its knowledge on its land in Dunmurry's Mosside area, in the middle of a large housing estate.

And last month residents said they feared their homes could be set alight if a 66ft bonfire in Newtownabbey's Ballyduff estate raged out of control.

Nicknamed 'the Beast', the monster construction, which was almost twice the size of nearby houses and less than 100 yards from some garden gates, has since been relocated.

Elsewhere, there was fury in a rural Co Londonderry village after it emerged that up to 300 homes will be without electricity tomorrow night because a bonfire could ignite overhead power lines.

Northern Ireland Electricity said the smoke and heat from bonfires can cause electrical arcing and sparking, and may bring down electrical lines in Articlave.

The Housing Executive owns many of the parcels of land across Northern Ireland where bonfires are constructed. But while the public body has the power to remove unsafe structures, it is not thought to have used such powers to date.

"We can go and remove it. But it's not a question of if you have the power or not. We need to think about the safety of our staff and contractors if we went in to remove something," a spokeswoman for the Housing Executive said.

Amid calls for a multi-agency approach, DUP MLA Jonathan Craig challenged Government departments to work on the increasingly problematic issue of bonfires.

"No Government department will touch the (issue of) bonfire sites. They see it as a hornets' nest. Some of the departments see it as unsolvable," he claimed.

"We are walking away from the communities on these issues."

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