Belfast Telegraph

Council won't face threats over removal of graffiti at Belfast bonfire site, claims DUP

The bonfire in the grounds of Avoniel Leisure Centre
The bonfire in the grounds of Avoniel Leisure Centre
A wall near the bonfire site covered in graffiti which has now been painted over
A wall near the bonfire site covered in graffiti which has now been painted over
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The DUP has played down claims that workers are facing intimidation over the removal of menacing graffiti linked to a loyalist bonfire site in east Belfast.

The SDLP's Donal Lyons said it was "absolutely disgraceful" that council workers and contractors still felt threatened.

But DUP councillor Tom Haire said he believed locals would want the graffiti removed now that the bonfire is over.

Belfast City Council was forced to back down from clearing material from the Avoniel Leisure Centre last week when the names of contractors were spray painted on a number of walls.

Some of the graffiti has since been removed, but the council has said their staff could not finish the job if there was "potential for threat or intimidation".

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne called the graffiti "a form of bullying and threat" and said officers were ready to support staff working to remove it.

Police have already accused the East Belfast UVF of organising and orchestrating resistance to any removal of the bonfire.

The PSNI is investigating after the names of the contractors were leaked.

Mr Lyons said: "It's absolutely disgraceful there's still a feeling of intimidation there, with council workers and contractors feeling they can't access the leisure centre without fear of threat, particularly to remove the graffiti, as well as to clear any debris and assess the level of damage that happened.

"Whether the issue is perceived or not, that's the nature of intimidation. If people feel scared or reluctant to go in and do their work that is a problem.

"We want the leisure centre back open as soon as possible. It just indicates the severity of the situation we've been dealing with over the last week that people are still nervous about it.

"We want to meet the police, not just over Avoniel, but also the broader issue of these paramilitary groups.

"We need to find a way to dismantle them, there's no excuse in this day and age. There never has been."

But Mr Haire said: "I would find what the Chief Constable is saying is hard to believe.

"The bonfire's over now and I think people would want the graffiti removed.

"The contractors that would be removing the graffiti won't be the same ones that were going to clear the bonfire, so I don't see the problem at all."

On the issue of the contractor names being leaked from the council, he said: "It's a matter of how you view it. I don't know how people found the names out, I don't even know who the contractor is.

"At the end of the day people wanted the bonfire, the bonfire happened and there was no trouble at it.

"I don't think there will be any intimidation at all because people want to go back to normal."

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd added: "The Chief Constable is on record publicly stating that the intimidation of contractors and the impact this will have had on them and their families must not be tolerated.

"A thorough police investigation is now under way to identify those responsible and seek to bring them before the courts."

He said the removal of the graffiti was the responsibility of the property owner assisted by any relevant agency.

"Officers are in ongoing liaison with the property owners and with Belfast City Council in an attempt to ensure the removal of the offending graffiti at the earliest opportunity," Mr Todd added.

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