Belfast Telegraph

SF says Belfast bonfire still a danger - but Order says further action would be 'attack on culture'

Bonfire builders at the Avoniel Leisure Centre site voluntarily remove tyres from their bonfire. Credit: Pacemaker
Bonfire builders at the Avoniel Leisure Centre site voluntarily remove tyres from their bonfire. Credit: Pacemaker
Bonfire builders at the Avoniel Leisure Centre site voluntarily remove tyres from their bonfire after a ruling from the City Council. Credit: Pacemaker
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein has said there still remains a dangerous bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre in Belfast, signalling moves could again be taken by councillors to remove the structure.

However, a senior Orangeman has said to take further action after the bonfire builders removed tyres could escalate tensions and be seen by the community as an "attack on their culture".

"I hope it is not," Mervyn Gibson told the BBC who said he hoped "common sense" would prevail.

"This community would see if they go for the wood, then it is not just about the tyres, they've moved the goal posts. It is now about the height, it's about the flags and it just seems like an attack on our culture.

"Let's why we ask the council to make the right decision for all communities."

It is understood those responsible for the bonfire are to meet with police on Tuesday.

That bonfire on Avoniel is a danger. Ciaran Beattie

Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie, however, said the issue with the two bonfires subject to council action at Ashdale car park and the leisure centre was always about the danger they posed and not just the tyres. He said the leisure centre had been "taken over" by the bonfire builders and also suggested residents may not welcome one of the bonfire's relocations.

He explained that as the council took an injunction out last year against the Department for Infrastructure to have a dangerous bonfire removed from its land, the council had a responsibility to act.

"We are applying that same procedure today," he said.

"That bonfire on Avoniel is a danger."

Referring to the Fire Service guidelines he said for every metre high, the bonfire had to be five metres away from the nearest building.  

"I seen the spin on this over the past couple of days in terms of tyres.  Tyres was not the issue, it was the height and mass of these bonfires," he continued.

"If Ashdale has been moved to king George Park that has to be welcomed. That was looked at some months ago for an alternative site and we understand residents there did not want that. There was supposed to be community consultation with residents and I am not sure that happened.

"While we welcome its move to a safe site we have to bear in mind the residents that have to bear the brunt of this."

He continued: "In terms of Avoniel - there was tyres hidden - they have now been removed. The height and the mass in terms of material on site is still a danger to surrounding  buildings.

"And we have to look at what Avoniel is, it is one of our leisure centres. Effectively it has been taken over for a bonfire to be placed in the car park. Where else would you get that?

"There has been small steps taken in terms of the tyres. But this is a Belfast City Council leisure centre site that has been taken over.

"There is a huge bonfire erected in the car park.

Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast.
Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast.

"The other day on Sunday the gates were locked, users were kept out. It was closed again early yesterday. There has been flags placed around lampposts. Belfast City Council has a neutrality policy where there is no flags allowed to be flown at any building and that doesn't matter what flag it is.

"Nothing has changed as far as we are concern and there is still a dangerous bonfire on the site."

The right thing has been done and let's hope the council does the right thing. Mervyn Gibson

Grand secretary of Orange Order, Meryvn Gibson said the council should respond with "positivity" to the actions of the bonfire builders to remove the tyres from their sites.

"The council should respond with common sense and positivity. This has always been about tyres," he continued.

"We seen on the London Road site that's all that was removed was tyres. The wood was left for the bonfire to continue and I think that should continue and repeated in Avoniel.

"The lads took the decision to remove the tyres they dismantled the bonfire yesterday, local people support them saying it was the right decision to make, the tyres sit and wait to be collected. They rebuilt the bonfire.

"There has always been a bonfire on the Avoniel site and the bonfire I seen certainly I don't think is a threat to any building."

He said the response to the council decision on removing the material was positive but there was a "strong possibility" things could deteriorate if the council took further action.

"Sadly what would increase tensions is if people moved in to take the wood now.

"Hopefully it wouldn't. The people don't want that, the bonfire builders don't want that."

He added: "I am not saying there are not issues that need to be addressed for next year. We need to begin to start to look at it for bonfire sites and all sorts of things. People just want to celebrate their culture.

"Think common sense should prevail - the right thing has been done and let's hope the council does the right thing.

"Some say it may be too late, but the right thing has been done."

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