This huge pile of tyres is set to go up in flames in the biggest loyalist bonfire ever seen on the Eleventh Night
Loyalists have vowed to build one of the biggest bonfires ever seen in Northern Ireland after fury erupted over the dumping of pallets and tyres a full five months before the Eleventh night.
The gathering of material in the heart of a large Newtownabbey housing estate for the annual commemoration has been described as an "absolute disgrace" with hundreds of tyres - which are illegal to burn - already on site.
Fears have been raised for residents' health and safety and the potential environmental damage caused by the bonfire in New Mossley, which is on public property near homes, schools, a youth club and community allotments.
But those responsible for the bonfire told the Belfast Telegraph it was "nobody else's business", and claimed the bonfire has "99% support" from residents in the sprawling estate.
One added that the current pyre will be "bigger than the Beast" - a reference to a monster 66ft bonfire constructed in the nearby Ballyduff estate two years ago.
That bonfire was eventually moved prior to being set alight after fears that homes close to the blaze would be seriously at risk.
A group of loyalists from the New Mossley estate said they will continue to build the bonfire, and won't be removing tyres or signing up to an agreed council protocol.
Jackie Shaw, of New Mossley Community Association, said they had the support of residents in the area.
"This area doesn't belong to the council, it belongs to the community," he said. "Years ago all you saw round here was graffiti, and vandalism. Look at it now; there's a positive atmosphere and work is ongoing, which we as a community are not getting credit for.
"If the community says they want to change things regarding the bonfire, then we will. But outsiders won't change it and political parties won't change it.
"Local people see this as a bonfire to celebrate their culture."
Alliance councillor John Blair said more had to be done to tackle the use of tyres on bonfires and their construction in built-up areas.
And he rejected claims the New Mossley bonfire had widespread community support.
"I'm confident that for every large bonfire in close proximity to houses or where children play there are always local concerns," he said. "Residents are often afraid to criticise or express opposition to bonfires.
"Community representatives and political representatives are often faced with long lists of complaints about the time-scales involved, the type of materials being gathered, the type of behaviour around the sites ahead of the event, and I don't know of one case where action has been taken against those flouting the law by collecting unsuitable materials at unsuitable times.
"I've met the Environment Agency and others about this and highlighted my concern.
"The important thing to stress here is nobody is trying to stop a celebration, but to ensure they are legal, enjoyable and are not intimidatory to anybody who lives close to them."
Ukip councillor Robert Hill described the dumping of tyres as "an absolute disgrace" and "inconsiderate" to residents.
Mr Hill said businesses charging people for the disposal of the tyres should not be depositing them on bonfire sites. Burning tyres has the potential to cause serious health problems.
Newtownabbey Borough Council introduced a scheme six years ago that set out a bonfire protocol. However, New Mossley did not sign up.
A spokeswoman for the council said: "Both Newtownabbey Borough and Antrim Borough Councils have bonfire protocols and management programmes in place and options are currently being considered to converge these arrangements for 2015.
"Out of a total of 24 bonfire sites across the two council areas, 19 sites annually sign up to the protocol.
"By signing up to participate in the bonfire protocol, bonfire sites agree not to collect material before mid-May (early June in Antrim's case) and not to burn tyres or other inappropriate materials on their sites. These measures seek to improve the management and cleanliness of sites particularly during the collection phase, ensure that inappropriate material can be removed and improve health and safety arrangements."
Despite New Mossley not having signed up to the agreement, the council said it will work with those involved in the bonfire.
"The council will engage with bonfire builders to remove inappropriate material where it is possible to do so in order to minimise the impact on residents and visitors. The council also works closely with the Housing Executive and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which has responsibility for effective regulation of activities that have the potential to impact on air, water and land."
Questions and Answers
Q. What is happening in New Mossley?
A. Five months ahead of the Eleventh night, hundreds of tyres and wooden pallets have already been dumped in the estate for the July bonfire.
Q. Why has this caused anger?
A. Political representatives have voiced concerns for public safety given the bonfire’s location. It is situated in the midst of a large housing estate and near a school. The area is owned by the Housing Executive. The presence of tyres has also sparked anger due to toxic fumes they give off when burnt.
Q. What do those responsible for the bonfire say?
A. They remain defiant. They claim they have community support and will continue to build it. Rather than engage with the council they say their bonfire will be bigger than ever.
Q. What can be done on an official level?
A. Fly-tipping and burning tyres are offences which can lead to court action and fines. The DoE is responsible for taking such action against culprits. Police are reluctant to clear sites but will assist when called upon.
Q. What’s the alternative to enforcement?
A. Nineteen out of 24 housing areas across Newtownabbey and Antrim have signed up to bonfire protocols. In doing so they qualify for grants. Under the protocols bonfires must be erected in designated areas and only certain items burned. Materials cannot be collected until May.
Q. Why is there controversy over bonfires?
A. The symbolism associated with bonfires continues to divide opinion, with nationalists viewing them as both illegal and sectarian, while unionists maintain that the bonfires are an important aspect of identity.
Q. Is an agreement likely in New Mossley?
A. Loyalists insist the bonfire will stay, but progress in nearby Ballyduff where an agreement was reached last year will give confidence a similar deal can be done.