Unionist politicians branded 'spineless' for silence on bonfires injunction
Unionist politicians are remaining silent on claims that they supported Belfast City Council's injunction preventing more material being added to four bonfires.
Despite demands that the DUP, UUP and PUP clarify their position, the three parties refused to confirm or deny reports they had approved the legal action.
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson accused the councillors of "political cowardice" and "a lack of transparency".
The Belfast Telegraph yesterday revealed that all the parties in City Hall had supported the injunction at a behind-closed-doors meeting with council officers last week, before the High Court action.
In a joint statement the DUP and PUP yesterday avoided addressing the issue.
Instead, they accused Sinn Fein of waging an aggressive "cultural war" on loyalists and seeking to "discredit" the Twelfth.
They said it was "a vain attempt" by republicans to "give their ageing leadership a legacy and restore their credibility within their own ranks".
Alliance leader Naomi Long accused both parties of lacking courage by trying to "keep quiet" about their support for the council injunction.
"They haven't a spine between them," she claimed.
Masked men yesterday helped add wooden pallets to one of the four east Belfast bonfires at the centre of the injunction.
Wearing balaclavas and scarves over their faces, the loyalists were photographed stacking material onto the bonfire at Inverary playing fields.
The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, claimed that PSNI resources could be stretched amid growing tensions surrounding the Eleventh Night bonfires.
Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said he hoped "those involved are able to sort out outstanding issues".
He added: "What we don't want is a drain on already stretched resources."
In their joint statement, the DUP and PUP claimed that Sinn Fein was targeting loyalists in Belfast "following the huge success of three unionist MPs" being elected in the city last month. The parties called for a cultural convention to be held in the autumn "to ensure that the unionist community can go forward with one voice in promoting our culture, heritage and tradition".
The two parties added: "It is our belief that this continued aggression by Sinn Fein and their continuation of a cultural war is a vain attempt to give their ageing leadership a legacy and to restore their credibility within their own ranks."
Sinn Fein accused the DUP and PUP of attempting to distract attention from their own actions. A party spokesman said: "It is clear from this statement that both the DUP and PUP have provided no answer to the public for their support for the court injunction on four council sites.
"What is needed now is leadership from unionist parties instead of attempting to divert from their support for these injunctions with a baseless and inflammatory attack on Sinn Féin."
Mr Bryson described the DUP-PUP statement as "a pathetic response" to the situation.
"It is cowardly for unionist parties to take positions in private and then not come out publicly and defend them. It shows an absolute lack of transparency," he said.
Mrs Long said the "vast majority of residents" living near the four bonfires were grateful to the council for securing the injunction and showing "leadership to break the climate of fear". She said residents were "afraid to speak out".
Sinn Fein claimed the council had a contractor to go onto the bonfire sites and remove material. However, a council spokesman wouldn't confirm this.
"We have a contractor who carries out work at numerous sites but we cannot comment any further due to a confidentiality clause," he said.
The council refused to respond to reports that all parties at City Hall had supported the injunction, saying that the "sensitive nature" of the issues involved meant that last week's meeting to discuss the issue had to be confidential.
Last night a bonfire in Dunmurry was set alight ahead of the Eleventh Night celebrations.