Activists warn of tensions reaching breaking point over Belfast bonfires
Bonfire builders in east Belfast vented their frustration yesterday at what they see as a heavy-handed approach from Belfast City Council.
While some greeted this newspaper with open hostility in the afternoon, others were more willing to speak out about their treatment and why the bonfire season was a central part of their identity.
At Avoniel Leisure Centre, masked men were barring the gates and immediately came out to shut down any possibility of speaking to the media.
Tension had escalated rapidly by that point as news of a fresh council decision to remove all bonfire material had just been announced.
After some of the tyres on the bonfire were removed voluntarily, there had been an expectation that there would be no further action.
After being told to leave in no uncertain terms as a crowd started to gather, there was a far more subdued atmosphere at a site on the London Road, just off the Ravenhill Road.
On Sunday, the council removed 1,800 tyres from the bonfire pile.
PUP councillor John Kyle voiced his support for removing tyres from bonfire sites, citing concerns around damage to health and the environment.
On a red-brick wall surrounding the London Road site, graffiti now declares "A vote for John Kyle is a vote for the IRA".
By 3pm yesterday afternoon, a group of local teenagers had rebuilt the pile around 40 pallets high.
Unconcerned by the dangers, one quickly laughed off an injury when a large nail on a plank went through the sole of his shoe.
Billy, aged in his early 40s, was helping with the rebuilding work.
"They're like wee ants," he said, admiring the rapid reconstruction work.
"The tyres were illegally dumped here - that's what you have to remember," he said.
"They reached out to the council to take them, they didn't come all week and then they showed up on Sunday with 30 meat wagons-plus.
"As you can see, all the wee lads here are feeling deflated.
"They have been flat-out for months and then it was all torn down on Sunday. Working on the bonfires also keeps the kids out of trouble.
"It's better than having them down at the Short Strand fighting Catholics.
"The mums around here appreciate that."
At the Inverary Playing Fields, off the Holywood Road, the final touches were being put on a bonfire pile stacked around 80 pallets high.
Hoisted to the top by a crane, a group of men took their time to place a large East Belfast UVF flag at its summit.
Operating the crane was David, a community activist with the East Belfast Cultural Collective.
The loyalist group was formed this year and represents 13 bonfires.
David said the Inverary bonfire had brought 16 bonfires off street corners.
But there was a feeling within the community that "enough was never enough" when it came to Belfast City Council.
"To be quite frank, I can't see people putting up with much more of it," David said.
"The situation at Avoniel is a really bad thing for loyalism and tensions are really high."