Graffiti implying a family centre will be burned out if wood for an anti-internment bonfire is removed has appeared overnight in the New Lodge area of north Belfast.
Bonfires are still lit in some areas to mark the start of internment – imprisonment of republicans without trial – which was introduced in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, in August 1971.
However, support for the practice has waned in recent years, largely due to associated anti-social behaviour in areas where the bonfires are built.
In the New Lodge and surrounding areas, residents have had to deal with a marked increase in disorder in recent weeks.
Last week, the violence escalated during four nights of rioting and police trying to restore order came under attack from youths throwing petrol bombs and other missiles.
Efforts to deal with controversial bonfires in Northern Ireland have been complicated by threats made against council staff or contractors tasked with the removal of material stockpiled for burning.
The latest sinister threat, sprayed on a wall of the North Belfast Family Centre used by many families from within the New Lodge community, states: “Our wood goes, this centre goes.”
More graffiti includes threats to political representatives who have spoken out against the bonfires.
The message “contractors beware” also features on nearby walls, starkly punctuated with crosshairs.
Police say they are investigating the threats.
In the case of the New Lodge bonfire, the Department for Infrastructure is responsible for the land on which it is situated.
A spokesperson said: “The use of a public road in New Lodge for the construction of a bonfire and the threatening graffiti are both completely unacceptable.
“The Department will continue to work with its statutory partners to identify the best way of supporting the local community and ensuring the safety of road users, staff and contractors.”
The Belfast Trust, which operates the family centre, said: “The family centre in New Lodge exists to serve all members of the community and we do not tolerate threats of this nature on any of our sites.
“The safety and comfort of our service users is paramount and all arrangements put in place to keep visitors safe are regularly reviewed.”
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “The council works with statutory partners, elected members and communities to minimise issues at bonfire sites.
“As the bonfire in the New Lodge area is not on our land, the removal of materials is not a matter for council.
“In relation to removal of contentious graffiti, we will endeavour to remove this as soon as practicably possible.”
SDLP Belfast City councillor Paul McCusker told UTV losing the family centre would be hugely detrimental to the local community – but some people were already too frightened to go there.
“This morning, we’ve seen families pull up in cars, but afraid to actually go into the centre because of the graffiti outside,” he said.
“The bonfire is also very close to the centre – it’s built in an area with a lot of flats, lots of homes nearby, so there are certainly health and safety concerns.”
Mr McCusker added: “The community have more or less said they don’t want this bonfire.
“We’ve seen nights of rioting and the criminality that the bonfire has brought is certainly not supported by the community.”