Residents' anger over police operation at bonfire storage site

Residents have expressed anger over a major police operation at a bonfire storage site in Derry on Thursday.

Thursday, 11th August 2016, 10:54 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 7:12 pm
Palets and other rubbish being gathered in the Meenan Sqaure area on Wednesday.

A number of residents in the Bogside said they awoke to scenes “like something out of 1969” on Thursday morning as a fleet of PSNI jeeps arrived as part of an operation to try and remove bonfire materials at Meenan Square.

They also warned that there seemed to be one rule for bonfires in unionist areas and another for those in nationalist areas.

Police said they attended the scene to ensure there was “no breach of the peace”, while a 15-year-old was arrested at the scene on suspicion of common assault.

Residents said police arrived in the Bogside at around 6am on Thursday. One woman said: “It was like something from 1969 to be honest. There were armed officers, jeeps, cameras on top of jeeps. It was far, far too much.

“When I look at these young people here today- they see not 100 yards from here, a bonfire that is celebrated, that is socially acceptable, that is partly funded, and then they stand now this morning and see armed officers coming in to remove their wood.

“I am no fan of bonfires by any means but I will not encourage the children of this area to accept that discrimination. If it is not the case that all bonfires are stopped then you cannot stop one and allow the other to continue.”

Another woman said: “It was like going back to the 70s- armed men standing over wee boys. I felt threatened coming out my front door.”

There have been concerns expressed by authorities over the potential for an explosion because the Meenan Square site is close to an electricity substation. A recent survey of residents also found most did not want a bonfire there.

However one woman said that last year the bonfire was moved to below the City Walls and there was no issue with it.

Also speaking at the scene, Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly said: “A lot of residents out here this morning aren’t necessarily pro-bonfire but they don’t want TSG members manhandling young teenagers. There is quite clearly a difference being made between young people here and young people in the Fountain and it is sending a bad message out.”

PSNI Chief Inspector Gordon McCalmont said: “We acknowledge that bonfires represent an important part of Northern Ireland’s culture and legacy, but also that they can cause concerns among some communities.

“While the physical removal of bonfire material is not a matter for police, we will assist other lead statutory partners if called upon to do so. We attended Meenan Square this morning to ensure there was no breach of the peace.”