Northern Ireland

Bonfires: Petrol bombs thrown at police on Eleventh Night

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Media caption"People have been starting to listen to our messages" - Assistant chief fire officer Alan Walmsley

Petrol bombs were thrown at police and two teenagers were arrested in an Eleventh Night incident in Belfast.

The attack on the officers happened on Thursday on Springfield Road, near Lanark Way in the west of the city.

It came as hundreds of bonfires were lit across Northern Ireland on the eve of the Twelfth of July celebrations.

Firefighters received the lowest number of emergency call-outs to bonfires in four years, with a 40% reduction on the number from the same period last year.

The ambulance service said its staff handled 447 emergency calls overnight, an increase of 21% from the same night in 2018.

It said four of its crews were assaulted during the evening but it is not clear if any of those were related to Eleventh Night bonfires.

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Media captionPSNI Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray says talks about next year's Eleventh Night bonfires must start now

Police expressed relief the violence was on a much lower level than in 2018, when firefighters were attacked, petrol bombs thrown and cars set alight during disturbances across Northern Ireland.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) is investigating complaints about "clearly distasteful" items that were placed on some bonfires, said Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray.

A 52-year-old man was charged with offences including criminal damage and is due to appear in court in Lisburn next month.

On Springfield Road in Belfast, a 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly and a 17-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of riotous behaviour.

They have been released on bail pending further inquiries.

Image caption A controversial bonfire in a leisure centre car park in Belfast was lit after a week of tension

The Twelfth of July is the main date in the Orange Order marching season, commemorating the 1690 Battle of the Boyne.

Bonfires are lit the night before to mark William of Orange's victory over the Catholic King James II and supporters say they are an important part of loyalist culture.

Most of them take place without major incident but some prove contentious, with the authorities having taken action on bonfires deemed unsafe or built without permission on council property.

'People listening to our message'

The fire service said 34 of the 136 emergency calls it received between 18:00 BST on Thursday and 01:00 on Friday were related to bonfires.

The majority of bonfire incidents required the "limited intervention" of only one fire appliance, it added.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Alan Walmsley said there seemed to have been a reduction in the number of tyres being burned.

"Hopefully… people have been starting to listen to our messages," he told BBC News NI.

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Media captionDUP MP Gavin Robinson says he believes UVF members are involved in the bonfire dispute

He also welcomed the fact that no fire service appliance was attacked during the call-outs.

There have been attacks on police officers and firefighters on the Eleventh Night in previous years.

Bonfire controversy

A controversial bonfire beside an east Belfast leisure centre was lit on Thursday night after Belfast City Council gave up on its efforts to remove it.

The bonfire in the car park at Avoniel Leisure Centre had been contentious because tyres had been placed on it to be burnt and it was built on council property without permission.

Bonfire builders voluntarily removed tyres after contractors acting for the council took 1,800 tyres from another bonfire nearby.

Image caption Graffiti threats to contractors asked to remove the bonfire appeared in east Belfast

The council held four emergency meetings about the bonfire but a contractor that was due to remove it pulled out after graffiti threats appeared near the site.

Police said they would meet council representatives to discuss a complaint about the leak of contractors' details.

The East Belfast MP, the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP), Gavin Robinson said he believed the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was involved in the dispute.

Speaking on Wednesday, he condemned the events surrounding the closure of the leisure centre on Sunday.

The council closed it after the entrance was barricaded by men who were behaving in a "threatening" way to staff.

"That's not, in my view, an appropriate expression of culture," said Mr Robinson.

He added that the council needed to deal with issues about the location and safety of bonfires "at an earlier stage".

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