Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council to make final call on contentious bonfires just three days before they are lit

Avoniel bonfire
Avoniel bonfire
Sydenham bonfire
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Belfast City Council will not take any decisions over the most contentious Eleventh Night bonfires until next week - just three days before they are due to be lit.

Following a special meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee yesterday, no final decisions were taken over how to deal with structures currently being erected on council property at Avoniel Leisure Centre and Inverary along the Sydenham bypass.

A City Hall spokesperson said: "Belfast City Council's approach to managing bonfires is led by elected members.

"At a special meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee (yesterday) an update was provided to members on a number of bonfire-related issues.

 

"A follow-up meeting is planned for next week."

The Belfast Telegraph understands that meeting is scheduled for Monday at 1pm, and that all options remain on the table at this stage.

That includes seeking last minute injunctions, a move which sparked controversy and confrontation in recent years.

The council will have three days to act on any issues that arise through the ongoing negotiations with community groups.

In the past, the local authority has had wooden pallets removed from locations across the city, with police facing street disorder on a number of occasions.

However, a loyalist source has told the Belfast Telegraph the situation is calmer this year ahead of the cultural celebrations and all bonfires are still scheduled to go ahead as planned.

One member of the Strategic Planning Committee also said the negotiations with community leaders had been "positive" throughout with a genuine willingness to engage.

A decision has been made to remove tyres from one site in the city and it's understood the location of a bonfire at Madrid Street is still proving problematic, but sources suggested councillors are willing to give as much time as possible for the negotiations to resolve any issues that arise.

It remains unclear whether the bonfires on council-owned land will be permitted to proceed.

"The member-led decision making process has been agreed to consider issues and make decisions on a site by site basis," the council spokesperson added.

"As issues arise, they will be put before members for their consideration."

It's also understood special attention is being paid to a bonfire near Cluan Place, where prominent loyalist Ian Ogle was murdered earlier this year and where tensions are likely to be high.

Trouble was sparked last year when concerns over the size and location of several bonfires in the city saw Belfast City Council forcibly remove wooden pallets due to health and safety concerns and the fear of damage to neighbouring property.

In 2017, Belfast City Council was granted a High Court injunction to stop people from accessing four bonfire sites in east Belfast, again prompted by concerns for public safety.

Those sites included Avoniel Leisure Centre car park as well as Bloomfield Walkway, Inverary Playing Fields and Cregagh Park East. That move prompted an angry reaction with loyalists in balaclavas using cherry pickers to add wooden pallets to the top of piles in defiance of the injunctions.

Earlier this year concerns were raised over the storage of wooden pallets in the car park at Avoniel Leisure Centre ahead of the traditional planned bonfire.

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