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Bonfire at leisure centre to be discussed by council committee

Avoniel Leisure Centre was closed on Sunday due to an incident which saw the main entrance barricaded. Credit: Pacemaker

An east Belfast leisure centre that was forced to close on Sunday is due to be discussed at a Belfast City Council committee meeting on bonfire-related issues.

The Strategic Policy and Resources Committee are meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss up to eight sites where bonfires have been erected.

They are expected to discuss the bonfire erected at Avoniel Leisure Centre after staff had problems getting into the facility on Sunday morning. There were reports that the main entrance was blocked by a group of men who appeared to be behaving in a “threatening” manner.

A council spokesperson said the centre was eventually opened but very few customers were able to get in so the decision was made to close it early. A statement added the situation would be reviewed on Monday.

A bonfire has been erected in the car park of Avoniel Leisure Centre. Credit: Pacemaker

Sinn Féin party group leader in Belfast City Council, Councillor Ciaran Beattie, said on Sunday: "Leisure centres are public assets, they should be open and accessible to all members of the community.

"There is an onus on Unionist politicians to show leadership and to stand firm against this type of behaviour. This behaviour is absolutely reprehensible and has no place in our city and society."

Likewise, Alliance Titanic Councillor Michelle Kelly also said the closure of Avoniel was totally unacceptable.

She said: "Councillors from all parties have been working together for several months to seek action on several dangerous bonfires, including Avoniel, and we will support any action that will protect the centre, and the lives and property of local people."

A community representative said bonfire builders were trying to protect their bonfire and did not intend to intimidate anyone. Credit: UTV

On Monday Robert Girvin from the east Belfast Community Collective gave an explanation for what prompted the incident.

“Yesterday morning there was an incident at Ravenhill bonfire, when masked contractors brought in by Belfast City Council were removing tyres from the bonfire in the Ravenhill area,” he said.

“The rumours spread that the bonfire was being removed itself, and some of the kids that run this bonfire here panicked and came round and closed the gates.

“If anyone did feel intimidated they’re very welcome to express that and we’ll try and deal with it as best we can but there was no intended intimidation.”

Earlier on Sunday morning, tyres from a nearby bonfire at a site in south Belfast, were taken away after an order from the council, however the existing bonfire on the site has not been removed.

In Portadown, residents in a block of flats have been strongly advised to leave their homes amid serious concern about a nearby bonfire.

In a letter to tenants, South Ulster Housing Association says that it has been put on notice by the council that "the bonfire poses a serious health and safety risk to residents".

The Housing Association has organised alternative accommodation for residents in Armagh City Youth Hostel.