Belfast Telegraph

Violence is proof council’s rushed bonfire policy has backfired: DUP

By Victoria Leonard

Violence in three nationalist areas of Belfast shows that the council's bonfire policy has "backfired on the community", the DUP has said.

Last week, Belfast City Council voted to give workers powers to remove bonfire material from public and private land in a policy spearheaded by Sinn Fein and supported by the SDLP and Alliance parties. The move was opposed by unionist councillors.

The removal of material from an anti-internment bonfire site in the Markets area on Monday triggered two nights of unrest.

The rioting saw arson attacks on cars in the Markets and New Lodge and the vacant Credit Union building in Divis was also set alight.

Two council vehicles were stoned in west Belfast with one driver sustaining a cut to the head.

Police were also pelted with petrol bombs, bricks and bottles.

Three community centres in the areas affected were closed on Tuesday evening, and council staff were advised to exit a city centre car park with caution as tensions ran high.

Police patrols were stepped up across Belfast in response to the violence.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a contractor employed by the council to clear bonfire material had withdrawn its services, and that City Hall staff would no longer remove such material.

DUP leader in Belfast City Council Lee Reynolds said that the unrest had "reduced services to some of the most deprived communities".

He said images of children as young as 12 rioting, wearing balaclavas and wielding planks of wood were shocking.

"I dislike the description of this as anti-social behaviour. It was criminal behaviour and rioting," he said.

"Sinn Fein made a conscious political decision to elevate the bonfire issue to a higher political sphere. That has proven to be very unhealthy.

"There was no need for the bonfire issue to be pushed through in an incredibly tight timeframe," he added.

The decision has now been 'called in' for review.

"Everybody has ample opportunity to reflect and think ahead. Unionist parties will be engaging with that process, taking time to step back and reflect," Mr Reynolds said.

"Nationalist representatives should also consider stepping back and having a rethink."

Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey blamed the trouble on a "small anti-social element" who were "using this as an excuse to carry out mindless vandalism in their own areas."

When asked to clarify whether the council would continue to enforce the removal of bonfire material, a spokesperson stated: "Belfast City Council does not comment on contractual or operational issues.

"There was no damage to council property during the unrest and therefore no repair costs were incurred. The costs of street cleaning operations were met from our operational budgets, and there was no additional cost to the council in this regard."

The spokesperson also revealed that the three community centres and car park used by staff are now operating as normal.

PSNI superintendent Andrea McMullan said: "We continue to engage with community representatives to assess the need for resources and we will adjust our resources according to this assessment.

"Resources allocated often flex and vary on a day-to-day basis and this will be no different."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph