Northern Ireland

Policing of bonfire removal cost £188,000

Bloomfield Walkway bonfire, Belfast
Image caption The Bloomfield Walkway bonfire was set ablaze as police and contractors moved in to dismantle it

A police operation to oversee the removal of two controversial bonfires in east Belfast cost almost £190,000, BBC News NI has learned.

Armed police stood guard while workers removed bonfire material on 11 July from Bloomfield Walkway and Cluan Place.

Police officers wore riot gear while the workers had masks to protect their identities.

The PSNI said it was a "significant policing operation".

It is understood that about 700 officers were involved in the operation across both sites.

The information on the cost was released in response to a Freedom of Information request sent by BBC News NI.

Image caption The PSNI said it was a "significant policing operation"

The PSNI confirmed the policing operation at Bloomfied Walkway cost £121,457, while the operation at Cluan Place cost £67,261.

About £115,000 of the overall cost related to overtime paid to officers.

Eleventh Night

Bonfires are traditionally lit in many loyalist areas of Northern Ireland on the Eleventh Night - the eve of the Twelfth of July.

The fires mark William of Orange's victory over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and supporters say they are an important part of loyalist culture.

The decision to remove material from the Bloomfield bonfire was taken on 10 July after a High Court ruling.

Belfast City Council had issued emergency legal proceedings after amid claims the controversial 80-pallet-high construction posed a serious threat to surrounding homes.

A judge subsequently directed the Department for Infrastructure to take immediate action.

The bonfire was lit as contractors moved in to try to dismantle it.

Image caption It took three hours to clear the bonfire at Cluan Place

The Cluan Place bonfire was dismantled after the Fire Service raised concerns about nearby buildings.

Belfast City Council and the Department for Infrastructure have previously refused to disclose how much they spent on removing bonfire material from both sites because of "commercial sensitivity".

In its FOI response, the PSNI confirmed it had mounted a "significant policing operation" at both sites to assist those statutory agencies responsible for removal of bonfire materials.

It said policing numbers changed throughout the duration of the policing operations, but confirmed that 16 Public Order Units were sent to Bloomfield Walkway while 11 units were sent to Cluan Place.

Public Order Units are commonly referred to as riot squads. Each unit has 25 members, which means that approximately 700 officers could have been involved in both policing operations.

BBC News NI asked the PSNI to confirm how many officers were at each location, and how long they spent there.

PSNI Ch Supt Jonathan Roberts said: "In the weeks leading up to the 11th July police worked alongside partners, principally the land-owners DfI and Belfast City Council in order to facilitate mediators who worked tirelessly to agree a community based and community supported resolution to the bonfire sites where public safety was a concern.

"As the direct result of a court order on Tuesday 10 July, the landowner asked police to support their contractors in the removal of materials from the site at the Bloomfield Walkway. On Wednesday 11 July a similar request was made to police in respect of the site at Cluan Place.

"Whilst police had planned for such a contingency, the decision to remove the material was taken by the land owner."

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