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PSNI accused of inaction over Belfast bonfires that threaten homes

By Suzanne Breen

Bonfires are spiralling out of control and residents are frustrated with the lack of action by the authorities, police have been told.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that a “full and frank discussion” took place last night at a meeting between councillors and senior PSNI officers to discuss the problem.

Police were asked to remove a caravan that appeared yesterday beside an east Belfast bonfire displaying a UVF flag and loyalist graffiti including ‘KAT’ — Kill All Taigs.

Councillors told Superintendent Darrin Jones and Chief Inspector David Moore that people were deeply worried about their homes and properties.

The meeting was held as controversy continues about a bonfire being built beside a play park close to Chobham Street on the Comber Greenway, and another pyre located yards from a Belfast city centre hotel.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said: “This was an opportunity for councillors to express the frustrations of local people that not enough action is being taken to tackle problematic bonfires.

“The impression on the ground is that the police and the statutory agencies are not in control of the situation. It was a full and frank discussion. But, unfortunately, I don’t think there were satisfactory answers to many questions.

“There was a lot of discussion about what we do next year as opposed to any realistic option of sorting out this year.”

A pallet sprayed with ‘Foreigners Out’ has been removed from the bonfire on Comber Greenway. The PSNI is investigating the incident, which has been reported as a hate crime.

The pallet was previously removed but reappeared on Monday. Another pallet declared ‘Locals Only’. The council has temporarily taken away equipment from the new playground, which hasn’t yet opened, in case it is damaged by the fire.

Mr Long said: “To move swings and a climbing frame rather than the bonfire is crazy. Every time that we give into the bonfire builders the more they push the boundaries. It is time to stand up to them. The wishes of residents must be respected.”

Representatives from the DUP, UUP, Alliance, SDLP and PUP were at last night’s meeting, which Sinn Fein did not attend. Chief executive of Belfast City Council Suzanne Wylie was also present.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said: “We are all worried that houses and properties will be damaged. We are looking for a way forward. We are not giving in to anybody, and that includes those who are making threats.”

SDLP councillor Pat Convery, who attended the meeting, said: “It is clear that people in local communities feel they are not being listened to.”

East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson said he had been working “on an ongoing basis” to resolve problems around local bonfires.

“Engagement and dialogue is the only way that real progress will be made in this area and we must empower those who want to see positive cultural celebrations which can be enjoyed by everyone,” he stated.

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