Belfast Telegraph

Alliance councillor hasn't visited Avoniel bonfire due to safety concerns

Loyalists make their feelings known at the Avoniel bonfire in east Belfast
Loyalists make their feelings known at the Avoniel bonfire in east Belfast

A Belfast Alliance councillor has said that he has been unable to visit the site of a controversial bonfire due to safety concerns.

Emmet McDonough-Brown said he didn't think it would have been appropriate to attend the site at Avoniel Leisure Centre.

A protest was held outside the leisure centre on Tuesday evening after Belfast City Council voted to remove the bonfire material from the council-owned site.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster the Alliance councillor said that he had yet to visit the site as it "hadn't been safe to do so".

"There was a protest of almost 400 people there, so I don't think that me attending that site would have added very much to the situation," he said.

Councillor McDonough-Brown said that council officers that had attended the bonfire site deemed it was dangerous.

"There's a menace to private property, this is a council facility, a leisure centre, notionally at least it was delivered on behalf of the citizens of this city for their benefit which is now being denied to them. I think that's wrong.

"The council decision was to remove all materials from that site, we've been denied from doing so by a protest, the bonfire is not safe, it is constructed on council land. This is public property."

Councillor McDonough-Brown acknowledged that there were other bonfires on public land but said the "real issue" was that the Avoneil bonfire was built outside a leisure centre.

"It's probably going to be closed again today (Wednesday), it was closed yesterday, there were threats and intimidation at the site on Sunday so I think we have to be really clear about what we're willing and not willing to put up with," he said.

"The intimidation of citizens who use public services is wrong, and denying them access to those services is wrong, so we've sought to intervene on that basis.

"I'm hopeful over the next 36 hours we will be able to remove the materials from that site."

The Alliance councillor said he would not mention the name of the contractors engaged to remove the material to protect their safety.

"It was never just about tyres, I think that's really important to restate, there are other issues at that site which is why we sought to intervene," he said.

"We've tried to engage for a number of months with people on the site and they have been unwilling to do so.

"It's very unfortunate that people don't want to talk about this and then after the decision is reached they claim that there has been no consultation, in the run up to the decision there were many attempts at consultation by councillors and council officials.

Councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown
Councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown

"The hope is that these things can be resolved without having to use contractors, for next year I hope we can have a more structured approach to these issues because nobody really wants to be in a position where contractors are removing bonfires, we all appreciate it's sensitive and difficult territory.

"At the end of the day there are standards which need to be set in terms of behaviour of people in the city and if people are willing to burn tyres, menace private property and destroy council facilities then we can't put up with that."

Avoniel Leisure Centre was closed early on Sunday amid claims that staff and members of the public were threatened by bonfire builders who blocked the entranceway.

Council voted on Monday to remove material from the site, Bonfire builders responded by voluntarily removing tyres from the structure.

However on Tuesday council reiterated its decision to send in contractors, accompanied by a police escort, to the remove the material from the site.

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