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PSNI and Belfast City Council meet to discuss contentious bonfires

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The bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

The bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

The bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

Meetings have taken place between the PSNI and Belfast City Council to discuss the best way to deal with contentious bonfires during the summer marching season.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne was speaking on the issue at yesterday's Stormont Justice Committee meeting.

He said police and community leaders must work together to avoid the chaos that was seen in Belfast last year.

Tensions flared at east Belfast's Avoniel Leisure Centre in July when a bonfire was built in the car park of the council-run facility ahead of the Eleventh night celebrations.

Elsewhere, a riot broke out in the New Lodge area in the north of the city in August after police attempted to remove a bonfire that was erected to commemorate the introduction of internment in 1971.

A series of stabbing incidents happened in the area that night after the PSNI pulled out of the scene to protect officers.

Mr Byrne was answering a question put to him by DUP MLA Paul Givan.

He had asked what lessons had been learned from last year's incidents.

The Chief Constable replied: "Only yesterday [Wednesday] we met with Belfast City Council looking at how do we see our respective positions.

"We're trying to make sure that nobody is running around at the last minute [after the bonfires are erected].

"In the seizure of bonfires, our difficulty is supporting people taking those huge bonfires down with tyres in them. We want to limit the size of bonfires this year.

"We don't want to get played by different communities."

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton added that the PSNI has been working on this summer's plans since last year's disturbances.

"The key issue for me is about trying to get peaceful outcomes in these situations but that can be difficult when there's a lot of police officers there, so it's a real balance," he continued.

Belfast Telegraph