Belfast Telegraph

Belfast residents' relief as bonfire material near flats is removed

By Christine Carrigan

A nationalist bonfire constructed in the New Lodge in north Belfast has been removed after the local community raised concerns.

The anti-internment pyre at Victoria Parade off North Queen Street sparked fears among residents as it was being built in a confined area close to several blocks of high-rise flats and a children's nursery.

Sinn Fein had criticised the bonfire as "anti-social" and a "misery" for locals.

To highlight the potential hazards, Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee pointed to the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy in London and another Belfast apartment building that was damaged due to a loyalist bonfire on the Eleventh Night.

Mr Magee said: "It brings it all home to everybody how dangerous these bonfires are, not just what happened in London, but what happened in Sandy Row. It is not just a myth that these bonfires are dangerous."

Bonfires are lit annually in some nationalist areas to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment on August 9, 1971.

Mr Magee condemned those responsible, stating it was young people who were not building it out of respect for the anniversary of mass arrests without trial.

The PSNI had a hand in removing material from the bonfire in the past because it was obstructing traffic in Victoria Parade. The dismantling of the pyre began early yesterday and it was cleared within a few hours.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, councillor Magee said: "I was down working hard with a lot of other agencies to get it all removed and there was no resistance from anyone. I am very pleased for the local residents, hopefully they can sleep a bit easier now."

However, he expressed concern it could be rebuilt. "There is a long way to go until it is finished, we have it cleared for now, but that won't stop kids coming back and dumping things or trying to hide materials until closer to the time," he said.

I would like to encourage all local businesses, from where these kids might be getting wood, to tell staff not to give out pallets to them.

"Also, they are stealing trolleys from local supermarkets to add to the pile, so I would urge these businesses to make sure that all trolleys are secure to deter this anti-social behaviour."

Meanwhile, residents of the 10-storey Sandy Row apartment block damaged by a loyalist bonfire were assured on Wednesday night that it would not be allowed to happen again. Last week a bonfire caused windows on the block to crack, and firefighters had to douse the building with water to prevent it catching fire.

But hours after the high-profile meeting on Wednesday night involving 30 residents and statutory agencies, including representatives of Belfast City Council and PSNI, the Victoria Place apartments were attacked.

The PSNI said: "A group of youths caused damage to the entrance of a car park at Welwood Street. The youths did not gain entry to the car park and made off in the direction of Great Victoria Street."

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