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PSNI: Crowds 'cheered' as police officers fell injured in violent clashes over Belfast bonfire

Sinn Féin and SDLP politicians have raised concerns over anti-internment bonfires in recent days.

LAST UPDATE | 8 Aug 2019

Bonfire in north Belfast The scene of the bonfire in the New Lodge area of Belfast Michael McHugh Michael McHugh

THE PSNI HAVE left the scene of a bonfire in Belfast after clashes over the removal of the bonfire material, with assistant chief constable Alan Todd telling reporters that crowds “cheered” as officers fell to the ground injured today.

The bonfire, which was to be lit to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment, is located at Queens Parade in the New Lodge area, at a site managed by the Department of Infrastructure.

Internment was a policy introduced in 1971 which saw Irish republicans arrested and imprisoned without trial.

In a statement this evening, the PSNI’s Todd said: “At 5am this morning, Thursday 8 August, we began a significant, dynamic policing operation in the New Lodge area of north Belfast to support contractors who had been tasked to remove a bonfire from the road.

During the operation a large crowd gathered and police officers were attacked, resulting in three police officers being injured.

Todd said that having met with the partner agencies and the contractor this afternoon, a decision was made to leave the scene “due to the significant risk to public safety and in particular, innocent bystanders”. 

Bonfire in north Belfast Police are attacked by youths at the site of a proposed bonfire in north Belfast PA Images PA Images

Speaking to reporters, Todd added: “We’ve had three officers injured today by mostly attacks carried out by young people. It’s clear to me that the young people are being orchestrated in the background by older heads, probably related to violent dissident republican groupings. 

There are a significant number of people who cheered when officers fell to the ground having been attacked. That’s reprehensible, and people need to reflect on that. 

The PSNI said that three officer were injured in the clashes as fireworks, bottles, wood and stones were thrown at them. 

Six petrol bombs were recovered by police and a 13-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of riotous and disorderly behaviour.

Bonfire in north Belfast Police at the scene of the bonfire today Niall Carson Niall Carson

Sinn Féin and SDLP politicians have raised concerns over the bonfire in recent days.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker called for the bonfire’s removal on Wednesday. The BBC reported that his comments came after threatening graffiti had appeared on the wall of a nearby family centre.

“There’s serious concerns about the level of threat here, there’s serious concerns about the level of criminality,” McCusker told BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show.

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín tweeted that “this bonfire isn’t wanted”. 

“I’m not long back after visiting residents and it’s clear the local families of those involved need to sit with the residents who are afraid and intimidated,” she said.

Bonfire in north Belfast Police are at the scene of the bonfire after contractors have been ordered to remove it Niall Carson Niall Carson

In a statement, the Department of Infrastructure said: “The Department is working with statutory partners and supported by the PSNI to remove the bonfire from the road in New Lodge. This work is ongoing and the Department asks for the community’s patience and respect.” 

Eleventh Night

This bonfire comes less than a month after a number of petrol bombs were thrown at police during Eleventh Night celebrations in Belfast on 11 July. 

The officers came under attack while on patrol in the Springfield Road area near Lanark Way. 

Two teenagers were subsequently arrested. 

Bonfires are lit in some loyalist areas on 11 July, the night before the Battle of the Boyne is commemorated by Orange Order parades across Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) saw a 40% decrease in the number of bonfires incidents attended to over the Eleventh night this year. 

However, there was significant tension leading up to the night after as a result of a bonfire at Avoniel. 

The Avoniel site first attracted controversy when staff closed the leisure centre after reportedly being threatened and intimidated by bonfire organisers.

Bonfire organisers had said they could “guarantee no violence” if and when contractors arrived to remove the material, the BBC reported at the time.

With reporting from Sean Murray

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