Belfast Telegraph

Belfast bonfire builders strip tyres from two sites after council vote

DUP councillors George Dorrian (centre), David Graham, Dale Pankhurst and Brian Kingston after committee vote to remove materials from two bonfire sites
DUP councillors George Dorrian (centre), David Graham, Dale Pankhurst and Brian Kingston after committee vote to remove materials from two bonfire sites
The padlocked gates at Avoniel Leisure Centre
The Avoniel bonfire
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Bonfire builders were last night taking tyres and other materials from two sites in Belfast following a council vote to remove them.

The actions were taken voluntarily at Avoniel Leisure Centre and Ashdale car park, near Connswater shopping centre, both in the east of the city.

The decision followed a special meeting of Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee yesterday where members voted to "act in the public interest" by removing dangerous materials from the two sites.

It's understood that the vote was not unanimous.

In a statement following the meeting, the council said: "Efforts have been ongoing for several months to encourage bonfire builders to be mindful of the need to protect life and property, and not to burn tyres.

"Council will continue to engage with community representatives to minimise any potential negative impact of bonfires on local residents.

"The committee also made it clear that any acts aimed at intimidating elected representatives are unacceptable and should be condemned."

At Avoniel Leisure Centre, a forklift truck appeared on site shortly after 4pm and proceeded to topple the pyre, before tyres were removed from inside the structure.

Meanwhile, the bonfire in Ashdale Street was being moved having been constructed there after the nearby Bloomfield Walkway site became unavailable due to landscaping.

DUP group leader on the council George Dorrian said his party's priority was to ensure bonfires were safe.

"We don't support the removal of bonfires wholesale. We want to see safe bonfires, without tyres and which don't threaten or intimidate communities," he said.

"That's what we want to see and that's what we'll be getting.

"The various parties have their positions to take, but what we want to do is make sure these bonfires are safe and people can come out and enjoy themselves.

"The council's job is to protect the people of Belfast and that's what we want to see happen."

Sinn Fein's Ciaran Beattie said the council's decision was "sensible" and in the public interest".

He added: "Council premises should be welcoming places and council staff and service users should be able to use those facilities free from fear and intimidation."

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said there was a sense of frustration that bonfires have become an annual conversation.

"By all means bonfires are a cultural expression, but if there is a risk to life and property that has to be accounted for and those building them need to address those concerns," he said.

Alliance's Emmet McDonough-Brown added: "We believe that you shouldn't be allowed to burn tyres or damage property and potentially cause a risk to life and pretend that that's an expression of culture." PUP councillor John Kyle yesterday appealed for "calm heads" after graffiti about him was painted in east Belfast over his support for removing tyres from bonfire sites.

Mr Kyle said: "These are difficult and tense days and feelings are running high but we need to encourage people to celebrate their culture in a responsible and sensible way."

On Sunday staff at Avoniel Leisure Centre were forced to close early due to the "potential threat" to workers.

The leisure centre was open at 7.15am for business as usual yesterday, although the main gates to the car park remained closed later in the morning after a chain and padlock were placed around the gates.

The chain was later removed and the gates opened.

On Sunday contractors also removed almost 2,000 tyres from a bonfire at London Street in east Belfast.

DUP South Belfast MP Emma Little Pengelly was among a number of unionist representatives to voice their opposition to the placing of tyres on the site.

The politician took to Twitter on Sunday night to ask why people would risk the health of communities by placing the toxic materials on bonfires.

She told those "hiding" tyres on bonfires to "wise up".

Last July Belfast City Council took the Department for Infrastructure to court to force it to intervene over the height of the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire, which was on the department's land.

Contractors moved in to remove material to reduce its height after it was found to pose a "serious threat" to homes in the area.

But the material was set alight before the contractors could move on to the site.

On July 11 last year firefighters attended 57 bonfire related incidents between the hours of 6pm and 1am - one more than 2017.

It was the highest number of bonfire-related calls on the Eleventh Night for the previous three years.

There were a total of 327 emergency calls on the Eleventh Night between 6pm and 1am and crews were mobilised to 164 operational incidents.

"It was an exceptionally busy time for our regional control centre personnel who handled emergency 999 calls every 48 seconds between 10pm and midnight," said Alan Walmsley, Assistant Chief Fire and Rescue Officer.

He added: "July 11 has the potential to be one of our busiest nights of the year."

Meanwhile, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council held a meeting to brief members of the ongoing situation in relation to a bonfire in Portadown

Residents at a block of flats in Corcrain Drive have been offered alternative accommodation by a housing association ahead of Thursday evening due to the risk posed from the nearby bonfire.

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