Stormont ministers threaten PSNI with legal action over north Belfast bonfire

The bonfire is located in an interface area of north Belfast. Credit: UTV

Two Stormont ministers have threatened police in Northern Ireland with legal action for failing to assist in the removal of a contentious loyalist bonfire.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon have issued pre-action correspondence to a commander signalling their intention to take a judicial review against the decision not to intervene on the bonfire in the loyalist area of Tiger's Bay.

DUP ministers have been challenging the authority of the ministers to take actions against the PSNI without the approval of the wider executive.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has also written to the ministers challenging their decision to bring legal action against PSNI.

The bonfire is the source of escalating tensions amid claims from residents in the nearby nationalist New Lodge that it has been built too close to the sensitive community interface.

Nationalist residents claim they are living in fear and have been attacked by missiles thrown by loyalist bonfire builders.

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.

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

The road on Adam Street where the Tiger's Bay bonfire has been built is owned by the Department of Infrastructure, while an adjacent piece of 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 pyre.

However, in order for council contractors to carry out the operation they need protection from the PSNI.

The police are refusing to do so, having made the assessment that an intervention would risk disorder, placing people congregating at the bonfire, including children, at risk.

The ministers' legal letter to the PSNI notes that the police have taken an "operational decision" not to support the contractors.

The letter, issued through Stormont's Departmental Solicitor's Office, says Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd has informed the departments that police intervention will "likely lead to wider disorder."