Connswater Greenway bonfire site removed due to 'pride in the area' say bonfire collectors - but refuse to be drawn on where tyres come from
A bonfire site on the multi-million pound Connswater Greenway has been removed because collectors have "pride in the area", a group representing them has said.
There was anger after tyres and wood pallets were dumped along the Flora Street walkway section of the £40million development.
Alliance leader and east Belfast MLA Naomi Long branded it a disgrace.
The material was being removed on Wednesday afternoon after some of it had been set alight on Tuesday night.
Some of the bonfire material dumped on the new £40m greenway in east Belfast has been set alight. pic.twitter.com/hWO3g4QBIR— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) March 14, 2017
A representative spoke out on behalf of the bonfire collectors.
Robert Osborne from Bloomfield Community Support Group, who was a bonfire collector himself for a couple of years, told the BBC's Stephen Nolan Show how he would have been out at 8am lifting pallets until he was 27.
He said that the materials were being removed because those involved have pride in their area.
Joined by prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson they both refused to be drawn on where the toxic tyres came from.
Robert said that the young people wanted to see the area "flourish".
"There is pride, we take pride in everything we do. We try to keep it clean but there are certain individuals who mess it up. Most of the kids try to keep it clean, it's what they work hard for. They don't want to see everything derstroyed.
Burning tyres is not culture— Mike Nesbitt (@mikenesbittni) March 10, 2017
"This is why our community has come together and the youths have come together.
"We have come to the decision in order to keep east Belfast progressing and flourishing, with all that money put into the park we can't see it go to waste.
"The youth know they can go to another bonfire, there are ones within a couple of metres of each other. I can't talk for every other bonfire. Because of what's going on in that park and the amount of money spent, our community is happy enough to step away from a bonfire.
He added: "A lot of the community were talking about it and believe it or not there were a lot youths that didn't want to collect there."
Robert said that the bonfire is "like family" and those involved put their "heart and soul into it".
He said that those involved in the collecting and building range in ages and and that it is what they were "raised to do".
"When we came together for discussions they were happy enough to step away from the bonfire because we are giving them something else to do.
"They do care that's why they've stepped away from the bonfire now.
"When they realised there was so much money put in to make their community look better. They obviously seen the outcome was going to be better for future developments and what might come for them.
The new multi-million-pound greenway in east Belfast. Today, it looks more orange than green ... pic.twitter.com/5qRdCWd6HY— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) March 10, 2017
"I broke it down to them and explained what we could do for them."
Robert said that the "children are the future" and that he saw the potential in the young people.
He said: "We are going to change their lives, we are going to take them away from running about the streets and give them better outcomes.
He added: "I know how hard it is to have no support when you are young.
"People grow up in the streets, they have nothing to do.
"You won't believe how much trouble it keeps them out of being at bonfires.
"These kids aren't out committing crimes or leading themselves into drugs. "
He added: "We've made a conscience choice and they are happy enough, the fun day is enough for the kids. There is much in that park that doesn't need to be destroyed with drink and drugs on the Eleventh night.
"We want our community to flourish and get better for the next generation - because at the end of the day the children are our future."
Prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson said it is positive for those involved to have a community group to speak on their behalf.
"The way bonfires are demonised a lot of the young people resent that and a result they rebel against it.
"Quite often it's the same faces on discussing bonfires. Each bonfire needs to have an avenue for their own people.
"Each bonfire needs to have someone to speak on their behalf and advocating on their behalf rather than the same old faces."
The Connswater Community Greenway is a £40million investment project in east Belfast creating a 5.5 mile park through east Belfast in a bid to connect the open and green spaces.
Following an outcry last week over the dumping, Belfast City Council said it was "very aware of negative issues associated with bonfires, particularly in relation to illegal dumping and general untidiness. Issues pertaining to bonfires are complex and multi-faceted.
"Responsibilities for the management of bonfires and associated issues is not just the responsibility of the council, and we will continue to work with partners and communities to address the issues and relieve the negative impacts associated with bonfires.”
Just last week a new bridge was opened along the greenway in honour of late Northern Ireland actor James Ellis.
The new bridge is the latest section of the Greenway to be opened linking CS Lewis Square at the Holywood Arches to Mersey Street and Victoria Park.