Police urged not to intervene to remove contentious loyalist bonfire

Loyalist bonfire builders have met police to urge them not to intervene to support the removal of a contentious fire in Belfast.

A delegation held talks with officers at a city centre station to discuss the controversy around the fire built in a car park of a council leisure centre in east Belfast.

Citing safety concerns, city councillors voted on Monday to take action at the Avoniel centre and remove material used in the fire’s construction.

In response, bonfire builders removed hundreds of tyres from the fire on Monday evening.

They insist the bonfire is now safe and have warned any move to demolish the bonfire would be unjustified and could lead to community tension spilling over.

Huge bonfires will be lit in loyalists areas across Northern Ireland late on Thursday night to usher in the Twelfth of July, the main date in the Protestant loyal order marching season marking the 1690 Battle of the Boyne.

While most of the fires are lit without major incident, a number continue to prove contentious, with the authorities having taken action in recent years on towering structures deemed unsafe and posing a threat to nearby properties.

Battle of the Boyne bonfires
Hundreds of tyres removed from a July 11th night bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

Outside Musgrave Street police station in Belfast on Tuesday morning, Jamie Bryson, a representative of the bonfire builders from the East Belfast Cultural Collective, said: “We are now at a tipping point and should masked contractors and police go in to remove what is now a perfectly safe bonfire with no tyres then any influence we have will be exhausted at that point in time and it’s anybody’s guess where we go at that point.”

On Monday, a committee at Belfast City Council voted to use contractors to remove materials from the site and another at nearby Ashdale Street car park.

Bonfire builders subsequently relocated the Ashdale Street fire to another site close to Mersey Street.

However, the Avoniel bonfire builders have moved to rebuild their fire without tyres.

Early on Sunday police supported masked council contractors as they removed about 1,800 tyres from a bonfire off London Road in south Belfast.

In Portadown, Co Armagh, residents of three apartment blocks in the Corcrain area have been urged to evacuate their homes due to concerns about the size of the bonfire built close-by.

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