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Belfast council tight-lipped on bonfires measures as Orange chief urges public to give them a miss

Just two days before the Eleventh Night bonfires Belfast City Council was remaining tight-lipped over what procedures will be put in place to manage the gatherings.

Pressure has been increasing on organisers from within the loyalist community to ensure all that take place follow Covid-19 guidelines.

The council's strategic policy and resources committee held a special meeting yesterday afternoon where the matter was discussed, but no details have yet been released on what protocol the council will follow.

A special meeting of the full council will be taking place today at 3pm, though it has not been made clear whether the issue over bonfires will be on the agenda.

As Belfast City Council holds fire on any protocol ahead of the Eleventh Night, Orange Order grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson called on loyalists to abandon bonfires this year due to fears over the coronavirus pandemic.

"Personally, I would prefer not to see any bonfires, because I think it is going to be hard to control crowds at them," he said.

"They will naturally attract people."

The PSNI told the Belfast Telegraph there would be an "appropriate and proportionate policing in place" to ensure Covid-19 regulations are followed.

It had been expected bonfires would not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but following the lifting of some restrictions a number have been announced as going ahead, including in Belfast and Larne.

Under the current regulations up to 30 people can meet outdoors while socially distancing.

Sinn Fein said the party "opposes bonfires that pose a threat to life, property and the environment", and added that action should be taken if any laws are broken.

Specific concerns have been raised over a bonfire being constructed on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens, close to a north Belfast interface.

Belfast City Council said: "While the bonfire on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens is not on council-owned land, we are aware of material being gathered at this site.

"We are also aware of ongoing engagement at a local level around concerns.

"Belfast City Council's approach to managing bonfires is led by elected members and council will continue to work in partnership with elected members and key stakeholders, including statutory partners and the community to address safety concerns."

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Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. Pic Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. Pic Liam McBurney/PA Wire

PA

Preparations for an 11th night Bonfire in the Lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. Pic Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The East Belfast Cultural Collective said it would not be seeking to prevent loyalists collecting for the annual Eleventh Night bonfires. But it did urge participants to adhere to public health regulations.

And it advised that pyres should be small, positioned to keep property safe and not include tyres or other rubbish.

Belfast Telegraph