UVF blamed for huge rise in tyres at 11th night bonfires
Health fears mount over growing mountains of rubber springing up at loyalist sites as our harbours are put on alert in a bid to block the importation of noxious materials
Police are watching ports across Northern Ireland after reports that loyalists are shipping in tyres from Britain to be burned on bonfires.
Tens of thousands of tyres, releasing a deadly cocktail of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, are due to go up in flames tonight.
Sources told the Belfast Telegraph of a dramatic rise in the number of tyres being used in bonfires this year and linked the development in some areas to a UVF faction.
They said that the harbour police had been put on "high alert" for tyre shipments coming into local ports.
The Belfast Telegraph has seen thousands of tyres at bonfire sites in the east of the city and in Newtownabbey, including at Inverary Drive, Cregagh, Pitt Park, Ravenhill, Ballybeen, Rathcoole and Ballycraigy.
A bonfire consisting of over 1,000 tyres - and only two rows of pallets - has been built in the Drumtara estate in Ballymena.
Politicians have demanded that the authorities remove it immediately because of the grave health risk it poses.
There are also reports of tyres in bonfires in Antrim, Ballymoney, Cloughmills, Glenarm, Portadown and Dungannon.
Paramilitary emblems are on display on the bonfire in the Ballycraigy estate in Antrim. A Loyalist Volunteer Force flag, as well as an image of two masked men with assault rifles, is on show.
A placard on the pyre, which includes hundreds of tyres, declares: 'Ballycraigy. No Funding. No Cultural Erosion. No Surrender'.
A well-placed source linked the rise in the number of tyres at many bonfires with UVF elements.
He said: "UDA bonfires are generally staying within the guidelines. By and large, they are behaving responsibly and not collecting tyres or other hazardous materials.
"It is the exact opposite at bonfires the UVF is running in Belfast.
"Tyres have appeared in far greater numbers than ever before.
"This isn't accidental, it has been orchestrated."
The source named a senior east Belfast UVF figure, who has drugs convictions, as being responsible.
Election posters of nationalist politicians and Irish tricolours have been placed on bonfires in Portadown and Dungannon.
Last night politicians demanded that action be taken regarding bonfires with tyres.
SDLP councillor Declan Boyle said: "The authorities cannot stand idly by and allow thousands of tyres to be burned tonight.
"It is not good enough to keep talking about the problem.
"These tyres must be removed immediately.
"If someone drops a cigarette butt on the street they face an £80 fine. Yet others are building a pile of tyres into the sky and nothing is done about it."
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said that a constituent had sent him photographs of a van delivering tyres to the Cregagh bonfire on Saturday which he had passed on to police. "This is one of the worst years I've ever seen regarding tyres," he said.
"I am calling for a robust approach by the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency.
"There must be prosecutions in relation to tyre distribution.
"Burning tyres endangers the health of all who attend bonfires or live nearby.
"It is like exposure to asbestos - the effects mightn't be seen for years but they are deadly."
Alliance councillor Michael Long said: "We have taken a major step backwards in terms of making bonfires more environmental and family friendly.
"The common sense attitude of previous years regarding tyres has been absolutely disregarded."
Mr Long said that the council's bonfire scheme was failing, with too many bonfires remaining outside it.
"We need a new scheme involving all bonfires, and strenuous efforts by the police and other statutory agencies to combat those who flout the law.
"We must start addressing the issue of next year's bonfires this August - not in June or July 2017," he added.