Avoniel bonfire: ‘removal would set precedent for republican memorials’

The chained and barricaded entrance gates to Avoniel Leisure Centre. A committee meeting of Belfast City councillors ruled on Monday (08 July 2019) that materials should be removed. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The chained and barricaded entrance gates to Avoniel Leisure Centre. A committee meeting of Belfast City councillors ruled on Monday (08 July 2019) that materials should be removed. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Share this article

The forced removal of a bonfire in east Belfast will bring pressure on authorities to remove republican memorials erected on public property, Jamie Bryson has said.

Speaking on behalf of bonfire builders at the Avoniel Leisure Centre site, the loyalist activist said that – with the tyres removed and the size reduced – the main objection to the bonfire was the fact it was on council-owned property without prior permission.

“Belfast City Council fund bonfires as part of bonfire management programmes on council land,” he said.

“This bonfire is not within the funding scheme but, if it was, it would comply with all of the conditions. So it’s very clear this is all about poking unionists in the eye and trying to assert some sort of cultural dominance.”

Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee is expected meet again on Wednesday afternoon to consider the Avoniel situation.

The meeting will be the third time in as many days that councillors will discuss a potential intervention to remove bonfire material from the site.

On Monday and Tuesday, a majority of members voted for contractors to move in.

Mr Bryson said enforcement action will have ramifications for other structures, such as republican memorials, erected on publicly-owned land.

“If the position of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance is that anything put on public property without permission should be removed, then we will be seeing prosecutions for people who paint the kerbstones for Gay Pride, and we will also see many republican memorials having to be taken down.

“If the police come in to remove a bonfire in east Belfast that’s on public land, then next week I will be calling for the PSNI go in with contractors to knock down illegally built republican memorials.”

Hundreds of loyalists attended a rally at Avoniel on Tuesday night – when speakers accused nationalist councillors of waging a cultural war against the unionist community.

One of the speakers, Orange Order grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson, urged people not to engage in criminal acts if the authorities intervened.

“I would appeal for calm at this bonfire,” he said.

“Do not react. I know that is going to be difficult because there is anger here, I am angry about the decision, but I would appeal that we do not react when they decide to move in, if they do decide to move in.”

Rev Gibson later tweeted: “Avoniel bonfire is 21 feet high, with no tyres, no threat to any building – it meets the Fire Service guidelines – it is no longer a dangerous bonfire – what excuse are councillors now using to remove wood?”