Belfast city council to discuss bonfire safety measures

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The bonfire is pictured before the burning, with the apartment building behindImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
The meeting comes after residents raised their concerns about bonfire safety near residential buildings

Sinn Féin wants Belfast City Council officials to be given the power to remove material from bonfires sites.

A motion by the party to that end is to be voted on at a special meeting of the council on Wednesday evening.

The motion has been proposed by Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh.

It comes weeks after a Belfast apartment building was damaged by an eleventh night bonfire held on council-owned land.

Dozens of windows were cracked, and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) had to dampen the building because of its proximity to the Sandy Row site.

Bonfire material was later removed from a bonfire site in the New Lodge area of north Belfast because of safety concerns.

Meanwhile, in Londonderry concerns are growing over the collection of material for a bonfire in the Bogside.

Large crowds of nationalists gathered to watch the 20-ft (6m) bonfire burn near the bottom of the Lecky Road flyover last 15 August.

It caused disruption to traffic and resulted in a major clean-up operation and there was widespread condemnation after a pipe bomb was thrown at a police vehicle near the area.

Bonfires are traditionally lit in loyalist areas on 11 July, marking the Twelfth of July commemorations.

So-called anti-internment bonfires are also lit in republican areas in August to mark the anniversary of the introduction in Northern Ireland of internment without trial in 1971.

Bounced into bad policy?

The Belfast city council motion states: "This council gives permission to our council officers to remove bonfire materials or employ contractors to facilitate the removal of bonfire materials from council sites and other sites, which belong to statutory agencies and those which are in private ownership."

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds said that a bonfire review was completed six months ago and another review and investigation is under way.

"This is an attempt to bounce the council into a bad policy without committee scrutiny, without full advice from officers, to compel other agencies to act outside their powers and to prejudice the review and investigation," he said.

Belfast City Council had previously announced an investigation into its storage of thousands of wooden pallets intended for local bonfires.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said his party supported the motion, added that nationalist bonfires as well as unionist ones were "causing problems".

"It's interesting that we have bonfires where there have potentially been unionist-type symbols, that have been burnt, which unionists have complained about," he said.

"They are now trying to block the removal of material from those bonfires when republicans are happy for it to be done...

"For residents in nationalist areas to have their will go ahead, we have to have this meeting, which is ridiculous, because all we need is for unionists to stand up and do what they're supposed to."

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said there has been a "consistent consensus that we do not want bonfires in nationalist areas".

"This is a practical issue," he said. "There has in the past been the ability to clear wood, which is what we want to do on this occasion.

"Unfortunately unionists haven't given consent to that, which is why we need the meeting."

Mt Attwood also made an assurance that if threats were made to contractors removing wood from council sites, the PSNI would be involved to ensure their safety.