Belfast Telegraph

There's no victory here, say Avoniel pyre organisers over Belfast council climbdown

Robert Girvan
Robert Girvan
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

As residents at the Avoniel bonfire site prepared for the Eleventh Night they wanted, many said the clash with Belfast City Council had added a sour taste to their celebrations.

On Wednesday night, hundreds gathered for a family-orientated "cultural celebration" with flute bands.

Yesterday afternoon, the names of contractors remained spray-painted on two walls with the warning that "you attack loyalism at your own risk".

Despite this, the atmosphere outside the Avoniel Leisure Centre gates remained relaxed as four police officers chatted to a small crowd of residents. Robert Girvan, from the East Belfast Cultural Collective, who represent a number of local bonfire organisers, said the local community had been ignored.

"There's no sense of victory here, the council were offered dialogue and didn't take it," he said.

"Now we have (Alliance councillor) Michael Long turning around and saying people are going to be prosecuted for using the park - it's ridiculous."

Mr Girvan said the threatening graffiti was "disappointing".

"I certainly don't condone it, but I know nothing about it."

He added that young people pictured wearing masks on top of the bonfire this week had only concealed their identity because of the media.

"When these kids are pictured in the papers, there's a frenzy on social media to try and identify them and get them thrown out of their jobs.

"There's no other reason they were wearing masks."

Mr Girvan said those attending the bonfire felt they were being unfairly dictated to by outsiders.

"How can a councillor from Botanic and one from the Markets tell the people of Avoniel what they should and shouldn't be doing?

"As long as Belfast City Hall is nationalist-controlled, they don't want a Prod about the place.

"But the people of Avoniel will still have a bonfire. They have done for 100 years in this area and they'll have it for another 100 years."

Another resident, David (22), accused the council of "stringing people along" until the last minute.

"Why have people standing here in the rain for days on end trying to defend our culture? We should be celebrating it, not defending it."

He said he had no comment about the graffiti, but added: "No one's been physically threatened. People want a bonfire but their culture's being threatened.

"I'd say to the council: why not give us a designated bonfire site? That would be more constructive."

Asked if it's possible to rebuild trust with the council, he said: "Not right away, maybe over time."

Stan Murphy (61) from east Belfast said he blamed the Alliance Party for the "disastrous" earlier decision to clear the bonfire site.

"With Sinn Fein and the SDLP, what can you expect? It's not their area. Alliance get votes in this area and they haven't even sent out representatives to talk to the people that organise the bonfires.

"It's been absolutely disgraceful. The council have a lot to answer for."

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