North Belfast bonfire row exposes Stormont tensions

Tensions at Stormont are once again in the spotlight, with parties divided over a loyalist bonfire at a contentious site near an interface in north Belfast.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and UUP leader Doug Beattie have both visited the pyre at Adam Street in predominantly loyalist Tiger’s Bay, close to the largely nationalist New Lodge.

It has become a source of escalating tensions amid claims from New Lodge residents that they are being forced to live in fear and have been attacked with missiles coming from the site.

However, loyalists have rejected suggestions the siting of the bonfire was deliberately provocative and have accused nationalists and republicans of whipping up tensions in an effort to deny them what they view as a legitimate celebration of their culture.

“I, having been on the ground now and seen the situation for myself, do not see any valid reason why this bonfire should be removed from this area,” Sir Jeffrey said.

Video: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says people should be given space to "exercise their culture"

Mr Beattie also said he felt any removal of the bonfire would be unnecessary and “antagonistic”.

In previous years, authorities have intervened to remove towering pyres on health and safety grounds.

The land on which the bonfire is sited is owned by the Department of Infrastructure, while the adjacent land where building materials have been collected is owned by the Department of Communities.

The two departments have sought and secured the assistance of Belfast City Council to remove the bonfire – but council contractors need PSNI protection to carry out the operation.

Earlier, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon have threatened police with legal action for failing to intervene.

That move was, however, also challenged by DUP ministers.

The High Court bid has since failed, having been dismissed on Friday evening.

Before the court proceedings went ahead, Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill called on police to act – and for the DUP leader to encourage the removal of the bonfire.

“Quite frankly, any government minister shouldn’t have to take the PSNI to court to do their job,” she said.

“I’ve been with residents this week, residents whose homes have been attacked, whose windows have been smashed by masonry being fired at their homes.

“The PSNI should move in to remove the bonfire. Bonfires are not a celebration of culture and they should not be put into an interface area which heightens tension and causes bother.

“I’ve met with the residents and I’ve heard it first hand, their fear, their worry, and the fact that their homes are being attacked just isn’t acceptable.”