Belfast Telegraph

Jamie Bryson stokes tensions with councillor bonfire ultimatum

By Suzanne Breen

Loyalist Jamie Bryson has thrown down the gauntlet to unionist councillors in Belfast over a High Court injunction preventing more material being brought to four bonfires.

Mr Bryson has sent a letter containing an ultimatum to all 24 unionist councillors giving them until 5pm today to condemn the council's injunction and distance themselves from it.

In the letter, which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph, he demands that they voice their opposition to the "draconian and inflammatory injunction" and call for it to be revoked.

The DUP, Ulster Unionist, PUP and independent unionist councillors are asked to publicly condemn senior City Hall officers for bringing an "anti-unionist" application before the courts.

The four bonfires at the centre of the injunction are at Bloomfield Walkway, Avoniel Leisure Centre car park, Inverary playing fields and Cregagh Park East.

The Belfast Telegraph can today reveal that council officers didn't seek the High Court injunction unilaterally but did so with the support of all parties in City Hall, including unionist ones.

Sources disclosed that council officers invited Sinn Fein, DUP, Alliance, UUP, SDLP and PUP group leaders, along with east Belfast councillors, to a meeting to discuss the injunction last Wednesday before court action was taken on Thursday.

An insider said that the injunction was supported by all the parties.

"There were no dissenting voices," he added. "The idea that this was just an action by unelected council officers isn't true. They were backed by every party in City Hall."

The injunction is intended to prevent the existing bonfires becoming any larger before they are lit on July 11, and prevents anyone from staying on the sites.

It states: "If you disobey this order you may be found guilty of contempt of court and may be sent to prison, fined or your assets may be seized."

Unionist sources last night accused Mr Bryson of "trying to make bonfires the new flags' protest".

They said they had never before heard of the East Belfast Community Initiative, the group he says he is representing in the letter. They noted that it was based in Newtownards and not in east Belfast.

The organisation shares the same address in Newtownards as JWB Consultancy which Companies House lists Mr Bryson as the director.

Veteran UUP councillor Jim Rodgers last night declined to address Mr Bryson's letter.

"I have absolutely no comment to make," he said.

DUP group leader Lee Reynolds could not be contacted. The Belfast Telegraph understands that the DUP has told its councillors not to speak to the media about the bonfire issue.

Sources told the Belfast Telegraph they expected that "the vast majority" of unionist councillors would ignore Mr Bryson and not respond to his ultimatum.

Mr Bryson said his organisation represented "community groups across east Belfast, Newtownards and North Down".

Criticising those who had contacted the Belfast Telegraph about his letter, he said: "The only people to have raised the political temperature are those who have joined with the 'progressive' pan-nationalist coalition in the targeting of unionist areas of cultural expression.

"They can spin, deflect and duck and dive.

"But we will find out who knew, when they knew and whether they supported the injunction or not."

In his letter, Mr Bryson refers to the bonfire sites as "cultural expression areas".

He says that the "loyalist community came out in large numbers" to support unionist politicians in last month's Westminster election and now expect them to "provide a strong proactive and robust response" to the injunction.

He asks each councillor to confirm that they had no advance knowledge of it.

They are asked to pledge their "support to the position of East Belfast Community Initiative that this anti-unionist, draconian and inflammatory injunction should be revoked forthwith".

Mr Bryson urges them to "condemn the actions of Belfast City Council officers" in applying for the injunction.

In a statement supporting the injunction, Alliance councillor Sian O'Neill disclosed that it had cross-party backing.

"The application for this injunction was supported by all parties and is intended to prevent further materials being placed at a number of sites which pose a significant and immediate risk to public safety and property," she said.

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