NI firefighters see ‘significant decrease’ in number of bonfire calls

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The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service noted a “significant decrease” in activity compared to this time last year.

Between 6 and 11pm, 12-bonfire-related incidents were recorded.

Police officers came under attack from petrol bombs at a community interface area in Belfast on Thursday night.

Two arrests were made in the nationalist Springfield Road.

An individual has also been charged in relation to the placement of offensive material on a bonfire in Lisburn, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said.

Ms Gray said disorder was not on the scale witnessed in past years on the Eleventh Night.

“I am relieved that over the past 24 hours we haven’t seen a repeat of the violence we witnessed on our streets this time last year,” she said.

In an apparent reference to the stand-off over the Avoniel bonfire in Belfast, Ms Gray said: “There is absolutely no doubt that there has been challenges over the last week, not just for us as a police service but for other public services”.

Ms Gray added: “None of this is easy and the resolution to these challenging issues does not rest with the police.”

She noted that a Stormont-established working group set up to examine ways to deal with the thorny issues of flags, identity, culture and tradition has still not reported three years on from its inception.

“We still wait any proposal from that commission,” she said.

Ms Gray said the offensive material on the bonfire in Lisburn was related to election campaigns.

Bonfire builders have faced criticism in the past for placing election posters belonging to nationalist and republican politicians on the fires and burning them.

With regard to the probe into how the details of contractors hired to remove the bonfire at Avoniel were leaked, Ms Gray was asked whether officers were examining if the information had come from within the police.

“It is highly unlikely that that happened, but if that is the case at any point that absolutely will be the subject and matter of investigation by the Police Ombudsman and that will be within their remit,” she said

She added that the past week had been “frustrating” for the police.

On UVF involvement at Avoniel, Ms Gray said: “I have no doubt that at Avoniel there was influence from East Belfast UVF, I have absolutely no doubt about that.”

She insisted that police had been “ready to go” and escort contractors into the site before the company pulled out of its arrangement with the council.

The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) responded to 34 bonfire-related incidents overnight.

That was 40% down on the number attended during the same period in 2018 and the lowest since 2015.

The service said the majority of incidents required “limited intervention” by one fire appliance.

Its statement added: “There were no attacks on NIFRS crews or appliances whilst carrying out their operational activities throughout the province.”