'Two or three' Eleventh night bonfires causing 'concerns'

There are two or three loyalist bonfire sites "of concern", a senior police officer has said.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said that is in the context of around 250 pyres being built at sites across Northern Ireland ahead of the annual July 12commemorations by loyalists.

A bonfire has appeared near a peace line in North Belfast and another is close to a fire stationin Newtownards, Co Down.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne emphasised that the role of police is to facilitate contractorsemployed by the body which owns the land the bonfire is on to remove it.

During a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly raisedthe issue of the pyre being built close to the peace line at Duncairn Gardens, between the New Lodge and Tiger's Bay areas.

He claimed it has been used as a platform to throw golf balls from the loyalist side of thedivide towards homes on the nationalist side, in some cases breaking windows or damaging cars.

"The problem with this one is very specific - it has been shifted in the last couple of years to the interface to have an effect not on Tiger's Bay but on the New Lodge, and it is having an effect there," he said.

Mr Kelly pressed Mr Byrne on what police will do to stop the bonfire going ahead in itspresent location.

Mr Byrne said that site is the "most contentious" of the bonfire issues this year.

"We continue to work with the ministerial departments that have ownership of the land,which is the first point of resolution to this," he said.

"We're just here to facilitate any removal of the bonfire by contractors, not to get involved with doing it ourselves."

Mr Todd added: "The work around community resolution to this has continued up until asrecently as yesterday, and I'll be getting a readout from those meetings and talking to my own team and our partners today and the rest of this week as we plan for what may or may not be required ... but at this stage I wouldn't want to comment any further."

He said it is important to note the context there are two-three sites of concern out of more than 250 bonfires.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew said he has written to Health Minister Robin Swann asking that he requests the PSNI remove the bonfire close to the fire stationin Newtownards.

"The erection of a bonfire extremely close to a fire station in Newtownards is deeplyconcerning," he said.

"The 11th of July is the busiest night of the year for our fire service and this bonfirewhich could impede on their work and capacity to fulfil their duty to protectcitizens is not only totally reckless, but outright dangerous."

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said plans are in place to ensure emergencycover is maintained within the Newtownards area and across the service.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely," a spokesperson added.

PSNI Superintendent Brian Kee responded to Mr Gildernew's statement saying: "Policehave no specific statutory responsibility to remove bonfires or waste material which has been left at bonfire sites.

"Local agreement between landowners, the local community and bonfire builders is always the most effective means of addressing these issues.

"Our role is to support landowners and other statutory agencies to carry out their rolesif required. Public safety is always our priority."

A spokesman for Ards and North Down Council said the authority was aware of the bonfire on land which is does not own.