Northern Ireland

Bonfires: Tyres removed from Avoniel and Connswater sites

Tyres being removed from a bonfire at Avoniel in east Belfast on Monday Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Bonfire builders at the Avoniel bonfire decided to remove the tyres themselves

Bonfire builders have removed tyres from two east Belfast bonfires, as the city council voted to take action.

One at Avoniel leisure centre was reconstructed without tyres, the other, near Connswater shopping centre has been relocated.

On Monday, the council decided to "remove materials" from the two bonfires due to environmental concerns.

It came after contractors, acting on behalf of the council, removed 1,800 tyres from another bonfire on Sunday.

It is understood the Connswater bonfire has been moved close to the Oval football ground.

Tensions have been building ahead of bonfires being lit before the Twelfth of July marches.

Bonfires are lit in some Protestant areas in Northern Ireland on 11 July, the night before Orange Order members commemorate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne with parades across Northern Ireland.

'Celebrate our culture'

Bonfire builders in Avoniel decided to remove the tyres and rebuild their bonfire before the council's decision, community representatives said.

Robert Girvin, from the East Belfast Cultural Collective, which represents a number of bonfire builders, said "armoured Land Rovers and contractors" sent to the Lismore Street bonfire to remove tyres had "caused tension".

"We prefer to celebrate rather than defend our culture," he said.

"The young people building the bonfire decided late last night they didn't want that to happen and decided to remove the tyres of their own volition."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Contractors removed tyres from a bonfire in Belfast on Sunday morning

On Sunday, tyres from the Lismore Street bonfire were removed under police guard and taken from the area.

Avoniel leisure centre was closed the same day as the entrance was barricaded by men acting in a "threatening" way towards staff.

The bonfire is being built in the leisure centre's car park.

Image caption Belfast City Council said the decision to remove materials was "in the public interest"

Alliance Party councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said the council had a responsibility to act when bonfires were built on its land.

"When people won't listen and won't engage, then sadly we're left with no alternative but to intervene in this way," he said.

"It's something we would rather we didn't have to do frankly because of the cost and the disruption but really there was no alternative at this stage."

It is estimated there are 80-100 bonfires in Belfast this year, with 35 signed up to an official scheme funded by the city council.

'Beggars belief'

In Portadown, residents living near a bonfire on council-owned land have been advised to leave their homes before the fire is lit later this week.

A special meeting of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council was held on Monday to discuss residents' concerns and councillors were told a contractor could not be found to remove firewood from the bonfire.

Afterwards, Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Nelson said it "beggars belief".

"We're asking those people to evacuate their homes so that a bonfire can be lit - if they don't evacuate their homes, their lives are at risk," she said.

"That's not acceptable in 2019."

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