The PSNI has ‘refused’ to help facilitate its removal
Those behind the bonfire in Tigers Bay have told the Infrastructure Minister there is the potential for “serious and widespread disorder” and a threat to life should the pyre be removed against their will.
The claim was made in a document outlining the legal issues the group made in a meeting with Nichola Mallon on Thursday night.
It stated there was no risk to life should the bonfire remain where it is, however, there could be “due to the potential widespread disorder which could occur should the bonfire be removed”.
First Minister Paul Givan called for tensions to ease. He said it was a small bonfire, had not “inappropiate material that could call offence” and called on nationalist politicians to show “some respect” in order to make the Twelfth period celebrated in “respectful manner”.
The SDLP MLA agreed to meet with the bonfire builders online following an urgent request by Jamie Bryson, who is representing the group.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and the Department for Communities have launched a Judicial Review against the PSNI which has “refused” to help facilitate the bonfire’s removal.
A spokesperson for the DfI said it considers it “unacceptable” to have a pyre on the interface.
"Legal action to require the PSNI to ensure that the bonfire is cleared has now commenced by the Department for Infrastructure and the Department for Communities as land owners,” both departments explained.
A spokesperson for the PSNI said it would not be able to comment due to the ongoing Judicial Review proceedings.
DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley, who chairs the infrastructure committee, has questioned why Ms Mallon is using DfI resources to take court action against the bonfire.
“The improper use of departmental resources would be a most serious matter,” said Mr Buckley. “The idea that the minister’s actions are also not controversial would also seem highly unlikely.
“As such it would not be a decision for her to take alone and therefore outside of her legal authority.”
Sharing the written submissions to Ms Mallon on Twitter, Mr Bryson said it pre-dates the Judicial Review, which will be responded to by the bonfire builders in due course.
The submissions outlined a number of European Convention on Human Rights obligations on the DfI.
The document, which was signed by Mr Bryson on behalf of the bonfire group, outlined that Ms Mallon told the group “she ‘raised no objections to any bonfire, including those on DfI land’”.
This “plainly inconsistent approach” shows there is no basis to interfere with the building and burning of the bonfire.
It added: “In light of all the foregoing, it is submitted that the cultural celebration should be permitted to proceed in consultation with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and PSNI to ensure there is no health and safety risks posed.
“There are grave concerns at the potential for serious and widespread disorder should the cultural site be removed against the wishes of the Tigers Bay community and political unionism, and the minister must carefully weigh Article 2 [right to life] issues that would surely flow from a regressive decision to seek to remove this cultural site.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is visiting Northern Ireland, told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster, that the decision as to whether or not the bonfire should go ahead is a decision for the PSNI.
However, it was pointed out the decision comes down to the Infrastructure Minister.
When asked if the bonfire should go ahead, Sir Keir said: “Deescalate the tension. Talk to both sides. We would have to talk to the police about it as well because in practical terms, if anything is asked to be done it is the police that are in the middle of this.
“But I would talk to both sides about the particular issue.”
The developments come after DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Tigers Bay bonfire should be allowed to remain during a visit to the site on Thursday evening.
Speaking to a crowd who gathered, Sir Jeffrey said he made it clear to the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Bryne that the bonfire should be “permitted” and that he thought it was the “appropriate response” that community events and the Eleventh Night lighting of the pyre should continue.