Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council ends bid to remove Avoniel bonfire - calls on police to act over leaks and trespass

PSNI at the scene (Liam McBurney/PA)
PSNI at the scene (Liam McBurney/PA)
Robert Girvin at Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)
Bandsmen from the Rising Sons Flute Band outside Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)
PSNI officers escort a Belfast City Council worker in a PSNI vehicle to read out a statement requesting that those on council property vacate the area at Avoniel Leisure Centre, where an 11th night bonfire has been erected. Belfast City Council reaffirmed its decision yesterday for the third time to remove materials from a bonfire site beside the centre.
Two PSNI officers walk towards the bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre after Belfast City Council requested that people vacate the site (Liam McBurney/PA)

A bonfire outside a leisure centre in east Belfast will go ahead after council ended attempts to have it removed.

Council have called on police to carry out an investigation into the leaking of the names of contractors engaged to remove the bonfire material and over alleged trespassing at the Avoniel Leisure Centre site.

Councillors met for the fourth time in four days on Thursday, July 11, in a last-ditch attempt to find a way forward.

The contractors pulled out of the job on Wednesday, days after threatening graffiti appeared near the leisure centre.

Council struggled to find another contractor to carry out the job after threats from the UVF of violence if an attempt was made to remove the bonfire.

At Thursday's meeting council agreed to establish an all-party working group to put in place a framework to "achieve a more effective management of bonfires".

Council also reiterated its support for the PSNI to take action against "those committing and orchestrating aggravated trespass at Avoniel" and expressed concern at the involvement of the east Belfast UVF.

Alliance Councillor Michael Long said it would be "counter-productive" to remove the material on July 11.

"We have got to take on board that there are children, young people and older people in that area," he said.

"We do have to say that statutory agencies have to really get a grip on this. Belfast City Council has taken the lead on this over the last two or three years.

The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The Corcrain Redmanville bonfire in Portadown is lit on July 10th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

"It's about time other statutory agencies lived up to their needs and what they should actually deliver for people. It is really disappointing that a democratically taken decision in Belfast City Council cannot be implemented and that is a worrying development."

DUP councillor George Dorrian said he felt that a sensible way forward had been found.

"We don't have contractors in place and that's the reality of where we are," he said.

"We want to take this forward and already look towards a more positive bonfire season and cultural celebrations.

"We have been working for a better bonfire strategy for the last 18 months and we will continue to do that."

Sinn Fein's Ciaran Beattie said that council held firm in its belief that the bonfire was illegal.

"It's disappointing that the contractors have been threatened and the threat has came through to the council, from the police, to say the east Belfast UVF have threatened contractors and possibly with the use of firearms which is a very worrying situation," he said.

"This bonfire is illegal, it's a council leisure facility. It's been occupied, the gates have been barricaded, there's been UVF flags put up around the site, a bonfire has been put in the car park without permission."

On Wednesday Belfast City Council heard a warning from police that guns could be used during severe violence orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries if the bonfire material is removed.

PSNI assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said: "The intelligence picture indicates that any attempt by the council to remove bonfire material will cause a severe violent confrontation, orchestrated by the UVF.

"The use of firearms during such disorder cannot be ruled out."

A round-the-clock "cultural celebration" was held at the site from Wednesday evening by the East Belfast Community Collective.

On Thursday morning council representatives attended the scene of the bonfire and formally asked the bonfire builders to leave the site.

Bonfire builders were told those on the leisure centre site were involved in an aggravated trespass.

Robert Girvin, from the East Belfast Cultural Collective rejected a suggestion that the bonfire is controlled by the UVF.

"It is controlled by the grannies, the mothers, the sisters, the children, the people of the local community," he said.

"That's who controls this, that's who organises it and that's who wants it. No-one wants violence."

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