Tigers Bay bonfire: minister requests PSNI assistance for clearance but agrees to meet community

Tensions around a north Belfast bonfire remained high on Thursday night as SDLP minister Nichola Mallon agreed to meet with community representatives in the loyalist Tigers Bay area.

The Adam Street bonfire site.
The Adam Street bonfire site.

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have called for the Adam Street site – close to the interface with the nationalist New Lodge area – to be cleared of all material before bonfire night on July 11.

Prior to news of an agreement to meet, a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure said the department “considers it unacceptable to have a bonfire in the vicinity of the interface at Adam Street and we have requested the assistance of the PSNI in relation to a potential removal operation”.

Jamie Bryson who had been instructed by the ‘Tiger’s Bay Bonfire Group’ to request the meeting on the group’s behalf, said he was hopefully a suitable time could be arranged for the meeting on Thursday night, but also questioned whether the minister had the authority to force the removal of the bonfire without consulting other ministers in the executive.

“This is a controversial issue which under section 24 (1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires executive approval,” Mr Bryson said.

“The minister, in my view, can not issue legal proceedings or instruct contractors to remove the bonfire unless the matter comes before the executive, at which point I would be astounded if unionism did not block any such proposals.”

“Setting this alongside the section 24 (1) of the NI Act issue, then I think the minister has significant legal hurdles in her way when it comes to removing this cultural celebration.”

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has accused loyalists at the bonfire site of throwing “masonry and golf balls” across the peaceline.

She said: “I have written to the ministers of health and education, as well as the mental health champion and the commissioner for children calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the impact on these children and what can be done about it.”

However, Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston of the Ulster Unionist Party has said there is no justification for the bonfire’s removal, and that to do so has the potential to set back local community relations.

“The reality is that this bonfire is not excessive in size, is smaller than in previous years, has no tyres on it, is located within a unionist community and is 60 feet away from the peace line which runs the length of Duncairn Gardens,” she said.

“The removal of the Adam Street bonfire is not justified and would cause more harm than good. Some political parties need to – to use a now common phrase – ‘dial down their rhetoric’ and stop flexing their muscles because they are only hyping up tensions.” Deputy DUP leader Paula Bradley had also called on Sinn Fein to “dial down the tension” around bonfires.

The North Belfast MLA added: “There has been much media hype surrounding the Adam Street bonfire. This bonfire is located in Adam Street, which is an integral part of the Tigers Bay community – not an interface.

“The bonfire builders proposed many measures in good faith: moving it back, reducing the size and scale, removing toxic materials, no offensive flags or emblems, engaging with the PSNI and the NIFRS – all of which were rejected and none of which were reciprocated.”

Ms Bradley said the Tigers Bay community “has come under sustained sectarian attack over recent weeks, months and years,” and added: “This bonfire is not contentious in the community within which it sits.

“It is only deemed contentious by those who talk about respect but cannot bring themselves torespect the sight of their neighbour’s culture.”

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