Missiles thrown as police move in on New Lodge bonfire

Tower blocks close to a republican bonfire in the New Lodge area of north Belfast are to be evactuated, the Housing Executive has said.
Tower blocks close to a republican bonfire in the New Lodge area of north Belfast are to be evactuated, the Housing Executive has said.
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A stand-off has developed at a republican bonfire in north Belfast this morning.

Police have moved in and formed a line around the contentious pyre in the New Lodge, which contractors have been ordered to remove.

The bonfire, built on land owned by the Department for Infrastructure, is due to be lit tonight to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial on August 9, 1971.

But two youths have scaled the bonfire and are refusing to come down.

Footage on social media this morning shows fireworks and bottles being thrown at police.

A PSNI spokesman said in a statement that officers are in attendance at the scene at Queens Parade to support contractors who have been tasked by the landowner to remove a bonfire from the road.

“We are endeavouring to support the contractors to complete this task in a timely manner, with minimum disruption to the community,” he said.

“We would ask for the community’s patience and support as the area is made safe.

“We will not be making any further comment at this time as this is an ongoing operation.”

Earlier this week, politicians from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP said the people who live in the area do not want the bonfire.

Sinister graffiti daubed on walls close to the pyre on Tuesday, threatening that if the wood is removed then a nearby community centre will be targeted.

Another sinister message names local Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee and states: ‘We know your address’.

The graffiti is set to be removed by council workers.

A spokesman for Belfast City Council said: “Council will endeavour to remove the contentious graffiti as soon as practicably possible.”

The Department for Infrastructure slammed the bonfire and threatening graffiti as “completely unacceptable”, adding: “The use of a public road in New Lodge for the construction of a bonfire and the threatening graffiti are both completely unacceptable.

“The department will continue to work with its statutory partners to identify the best way of supporting the local community and ensuring the safety of road users, staff and contractors.”

DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst has voiced support for his Sinn Fein counterpart in the Oldpark ward.

In a message posted on Twitter, Cllr Pankhurst said: “Although @jjnorthbelfast and I regularly clash on a number of issues, we do so in a democratic setting. The threats made against him in the New Lodge are wrong and must be condemned.”

Paul McCusker of the SDLP said people in the New Lodge do not want the bonfire.

“If there are threats made towards anybody, the job of police is to keep people safe, to ensure that these threats are investigated and also people are being protected, particularly buildings which are an important resource to the New Lodge, there’s a family centre there,” Cllr McCusker told the BBC Nolan Show.

“There are serious concerns around the level of threat here, serious concerns in terms of the level of criminality, and when that happens no one can deal with that, only the police.”

Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin said the bonfire “isn’t wanted” and should be removed, and that “all the criminal behaviour needs dealt with”.