Crowds gather in east Belfast amid defiant statement from bonfire supporters

Robert Girvin speaking at the rally
Robert Girvin speaking at the rally
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Hundreds of people attended a rally tonight at the site of a bonfire on council land at Avoniel leisure centre, east Belfast.

It comes after the council re-affirmed a plan to remove material from the site, despite tyres being removed from the pyre.

Jamie Bryson and Robert Girvan

Jamie Bryson and Robert Girvan

Robert Girvin, from the from the East Belfast Cultural Collective, told the crowd: “This bonfire’s going nowhere. This bonfire’s being lit.”

Meanwhile women and girls gathered around the fire in a circle, some chanting “east Belfast, east Belfast” (although there was no immediate sign of authorities moving in to dismantle it).

Jamie Bryson said there was “no legal necessity” to remove the bonfire, adding that loyalists “do not want “confrontation with the PSNI” – and warning the chief constable not to make his officers “pawns of a nationalist-dominated council”.

In a tweet just before the rally, he declared that what people face is a “battle over the very existence of unionist culture”.

Youngsters atop the Avoniel bonfire

Youngsters atop the Avoniel bonfire

Meanwhile, prominent Orangeman Mervyn Gibson declared that the Avoniel bonfire was now “21 feet high, with no tyres, no threat to any building”.

Tensions had been mounting for days, after a council committee (where Sinn Fein is the largest party) said that material could be removed from the site.

It also said material should be taken from another fire, near to Connswater shopping centre.

It is understood the bonfire near Connswater has now been relocated to King George playing fields, close to the Oval football ground.

Read more about the initial decision by the council committee, and what the make-up of it is politically.