Belfast City Council have been accused of “agitating unionist culture” after contractors arrived to remove tyres from a bonfire in east Belfast early this morning.
Organisers of the bonfire say they had attempted to work with the council to have the tyres removed, but the council had “done it their own way”, a move which reignited tensions at the contentious site off Ravenhill Road.
The News Letter was at the scene on London Road on Sunday morning and spoke with loyalists in the area who felt the council had deliberately tried to provoke the community with the actions.
Unionist activist Jamie Bryson said: “After consultation with the council the young lads had agreed to remove the tyres from the bonfire and the council were going to come and lift them on Thursday. They would have helped them load the tyres and take them away.
“The council broke that agreement. They didn’t come and lift them as they were meant to. Instead the masked contractors came at 6am this morning.”
There was a large police presence in the area as PSNI officers stood between members of the PUL community and the contractors who had arrived to remove the tyres.
Mr Bryson said: “The PSNI don’t want to be here. They’re being used as tools of the nationalist-dominated Belfast City Council. It’s an attempt to target and agitate unionist culture.
“Loyalists have sought to engage with statutory agencies despite the way the community was treated last year. This is the reward you get.”
Bonfire organiser Billy Locke said: “We’ve been on the ground since 7am trying to calm things down. It’s well seen we were here. Tensions are running very high.
“What they’ve done is provocative. They make it seem like they’re going to work alongside you and then they go a different direction.
“There was a willingness to co-operate. This is not co-operation, it’s enforcement.
“Other bonfires in the area are up in arms wondering what’s happening with their bonfires, they could come at any time and start taking them down.”
When asked about its actions this morning, Belfast City Council responded: “Belfast City Council’s approach to managing bonfires is led by elected members. A member-led decision making process has been agreed to consider issues and make decisions on a site by site basis.
“At a special meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Wednesday (July 3) an update was provided to members on a number of bonfire-related issues. A follow up meeting is planned for tomorrow (Monday).”