Belfast Telegraph

Bonfire tensions: Business as usual at Belfast leisure centre where gang 'intimidated' staff

Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast.
Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast.

It is business usual at a Belfast leisure centre which was forced to close after a group of men were said to have blocked the entrance and intimidated staff.

Avoniel Leisure Centre closed on Sunday because of the potential threat to workers, the council said.

A bonfire has been built in the car park of the east Belfast facility ahead of the Eleventh night celebrations.

Bonfires have been held in the car park for a number of years. Last week a number of UVF flags were erected in the car park of the leisure centre.

Lisnasharragh SDLP councillor Seamas De Faoite said staff arrived on Sunday morning to open the centre when they found the entrance blocked off with debris.

He said it was "made clear to staff" by the men that the centre would not be opened. Staff eventually entered the premises through a pedestrian entrance and opened the facility to the public. It was closed later to the public.

The East Belfast Cultural Collective, which represents a number of bonfires in the area, said "young bonfire builders had panicked" due to rumours material was to be taken from the site and closed the gate.

It denied anyone was threatened or intimidated at the leisure centre.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson described the behaviour a "wrong" saying staff should not have been "subjected to this criminal behaviour".

"Those responsible should face up to the consequences of their disgraceful actions. They are hurting their own community," he said.

Pallets stored at Avoniel Leisure Centre car park ahead of July 11
Pallets stored at Avoniel Leisure Centre car park ahead of July 11

DUP city council leader George Dorrian said it was "unacceptable facilities were held to ransom".

Alliance councillor Michelle Kelly said she supported people's right to celebrate their culture but it had to be in a "fair and respectful manner".

She said the group of men at the centre behaved in a threatening manner to staff.

"I really don't think it is too much to ask that staff and residents are allowed to go about their business without fear of threat or intimidation," she told the BBC.

She said the bonfire needed to be made secure to allow the centre to be used in a safe way and the council had been meeting regularly and would continue to do so and her party would ensure bonfires were made "safe and secure".

Belfast City Council confirmed it was business as usual at Avoniel Leisure Centre on Monday morning.

Avoniel bonfire
Avoniel bonfire

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