Safety fears in Newtownards as it’s revealed barriers bid to resolve Tigers Bay row failed
An offer to erect metal screens in an attempt to resolve a dispute over a controversial bonfire on a north Belfast interface failed, the Belfast Telegraph understands.
As bonfires were set alight across Northern Ireland over the weekend, there were concerns after teenagers were seen climbing on a pyre after it had been torched.
A photo shows three boys scrambling down the side of the bonfire in Newtownards while it is already ablaze. There were no reports of injuries.
Meanwhile, it can be revealed the Department of Justice was part of a working group along with the Department for Communities and Department for Infrastructure that met to discuss ways of resolving the dispute over the Tigers Bay bonfire.
Ministers Naomi Long, Deirdre Hargey and Nicola Mallon met earlier this month.
However, the Department of Justice was not part of a failed legal action launched to try and force police to assist contractors in removing the structure. The PSNI had refused to provide assistance three times, saying to do so risked violence.
Sources say while Mrs Long refused to join the legal action, her department had suggested placing metal screens, similar to those used in parading disputes in east Belfast, along the interface to block the fire from the sight of nationalist homes in the New Lodge.
It was reported last week that Ms Hargey and Ms Mallon had asked to have the bonfire material removed from the site in late June.
But an assessment by Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd stated police had intelligence indicating removing it would be “met with resistance on the site from people from within the local community, including women and children, who will attempt to obstruct and/or resist both contractors and police”.
“Such action, in combination with other aspects of the site, would undoubtedly delay any contractor operation, significantly increase tensions and likely lead to disorder,” he said.
“Intelligence suggests significant numbers of ‘petrol bombs’ are available and arrangements in place to mobilise significant numbers of people in response to any removal operation.”
He added that there was “untested intelligence, which we are seeking to further develop, indicating a firearms risk in respect of contractors and police operating on the site”.
The ministers’ bid to compel the police to act failed at emergency High Court proceedings on Friday.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill hit out over the fact paramilitary weapons might have been used to prevent the bonfire being removed.
“I just think it is absolutely incredulous that the UDA threats mean that this bonfire is facilitated,” she told the BBC Sunday Politics show
"For this weekend that is incoming, I hope it is a peaceful weekend, I hope it is a calm weekend."
She said it was “absolutely right” that the SDLP’s Ms Mallon and Sinn Fein’s Ms Hargey took the proceedings.
Another controversial bonfire in Newtowards built close to a fire station was lit on Saturday evening with a large crowd of spectators gathered.
Firefighters damped down local homes to protect them from the blaze. Despite this, a number of windows were cracked by the heat and had to be replaced yesterday by contractors.
A huge Irish tricolour was placed on the pyre in the East End of the town. The fire station was not damaged.
In Portadown a huge bonfire at Edgarstown collapsed after being set on fire on Friday, covering the area in burning wood.
Video footage showed the pyre collapsing as scores of people, including young children, scream as they flee while the bonfire plummets toward the ground before landing close to parked cars and a road. There were no reports of injury.
Sinn Fein councillor Paul Duffy said: “Nearby residents, drivers and homes were placed in serious danger as this bonfire came crashing down on to a main road. It’s a miracle that no one was killed.”
However, independent unionist councillor Darryn Causby blamed spectators for standing too close to the fire, saying organisers attempted to clear the area and had informed people not to park in certain places.
“People took an unnecessary risk, they needed to be more careful,” he said.
“What I saw last night was bonfire builders telling people to stay clear and they chose not to do that.
"It is not the first time a bonfire has fallen. People have to be aware of the responsibility on their part to keep safe distance.”
The largest bonfire in Northern Ireland at Craigyhill in Larne was lit last night.
Local homes had their windows boarded up ahead of the fire to try and prevent any damage.
A banner with UDA and UFF terrorist emblems was placed on the fire over the weekend.