Councillors hold further talks over controversial Belfast bonfire site
Bonfire builders are angry at the planned intervention of police and contractors to demolish the structure in a leisure centre car park.
Councillors are to meet for a third time to debate a controversial move to demolish a loyalist bonfire built at a Belfast leisure centre.
It is understood Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee will convene again on Wednesday afternoon – the third occasion in three days – to consider the situation at Avoniel in the east of city.
On Monday and Tuesday, a majority of members voted for contractors to remove bonfire materials and flags erected on the council property.
Loyalists maintained an overnight presence at the site in anticipation of police and contractors moving in to demolish it.
A crowd gathered at the gates of the leisure centre in case the council-ordered intervention was carried out in the early hours of Wednesday.
Police did not act overnight, but bonfire builders still expect their arrival within the coming 24 hours.
The bonfire has been built in the car park of the centre.
Huge bonfires will be lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland late on Thursday night to usher in the Twelfth of July, the main date in the Protestant loyal order marching season marking the 1690 Battle of the Boyne.
While most of the fires are lit without major incident, a number continue to prove contentious, with the authorities having taken action in recent years on structures deemed unsafe and posing a threat to nearby properties.
The council committee has voted to send contractors, under police escort, to take down the bonfire at Avoniel, with the local authority saying it is acting in the interests of protecting life and property.
The council closed the leisure centre early on Tuesday afternoon amid rising community tensions over the fate of the fire, and it remained closed on Wednesday.
Loyalists have barricaded the gates with industrial bins and tyres in an effort to stop vehicles entering the site.
A secondary barricade – made up of tyres – has been placed further into the car park entrance.
Sinister graffiti has been painted on nearby walls, warning against intervention.
Hundreds of loyalists attended a rally at the site on Tuesday night – an event which saw nationalist councillors accused of waging a cultural war against the unionist community.
Representatives of the bonfire builders have met police to urge them not to intervene to support the removal of the bonfire.
At the rally, Presbyterian minister and senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson told people not to engage in criminal acts if the authorities intervened.
“I would appeal for calm at this bonfire,” he said.
“Do not react. I know that is going to be difficult because there is anger here, I am angry about the decision, but I would appeal that we do not react when they decide to move in, if they do decide to move in.”
In Portadown, Co Armagh, residents of three apartment blocks in the Corcrain area have been urged to evacuate their homes due to concerns about the size of a bonfire built nearby.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council had also decided to hire contractors to make the structure safe.
However, several councillors claim that plan has now been ditched, with the council having been unable to secure a contractor willing to take down the bonfire, despite approaching more than 35 companies.