Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist paramilitary influence on bonfires shown in leaked report

The influence of loyalist paramilitaries in the running of bonfires has been shown in a confidential leaked report.

The Irish News reports the document, commissioned by the Community Relations Council, shows concerns from officials with a number of public bodies.

Although officials are not seen to condone paramilitarism, they can find themselves "operating in an environment were rules are at a minimum and the power essentially lies with unofficial organisations and unelected individuals" and where they are "turning a blind eye to alleged paramilitary influence", the report says.

The 82-page draft document goes into detail about the strain annual bonfires place on public bodies, including local councils and emergency services.

Its is reported a number of participants in the study were reluctant to speak on the record due to concerns it could make them "organisationally and/or politically vulnerable".

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The Eleventh Night bonfire near to the Victoria Place apartments. Credit: Arthur Allison.

The Irish News also reports other issues in the document including: administrators of council funding schemes for bonfire groups being unable to enforce penalties for breaching conditions; Housing Executive grants being used to fund wooden pallets in preference to rubber tyres; and spending by the Housing Executive on bonfires in 2016 being £160,000.

The issue of bonfires in Northern Ireland remains contentious and Eleventh Night pyres in 2017 prompted a number of controversies.

One bonfire in east Belfast drew anger from Sinn Fein after an image of the late Martin McGuinness was attached to it, while a racist banner referencing Celtic striker Scott Sinclair was placed on another bonfire in the same area.

Residents at an apartment complex near Sandy Row were required to vacate their homes after heat from a nearby bonfire cracked the building's windows.

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