A war of words concerning the erection of a bonfire in the middle of the road in the Bogside continued throughout Monday in the approach to the bonfire being lit last night.
The construction of the bonfire, made up of wooden pallets and tyres began at the foot of the Lecky Road flyover late on Sunday night.
However, tension over the issue had been mounting for several days since the PSNI entered a disused building in the area last Thursday, August 11, and removed wood to be used in the bonfire that had been gathered by local youths.
Independent Councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council, who was at the scene told the ‘Journal’: “Personally, I don’t see the point in bonfires, but the young people in the area were determined to have one.”
Colr. Donnelly said that a process involving the Fire Service and other agencies last year saw the bonfire shifted to the banking area underneath the city’s walls had proved successful and that the Fire and Rescue Service had publicly praised local youths for their actions in 2015. However, a similar process does not seem to have materialised this year.
“When the police arrived here last week with the owner of the building where wood for the bonfire had been placed, they broke down the gate, removed some of the wood and left the place unsecured and in a more dangerous state than it had been before that point,” claimed Colr. Donnelly.
“Some young people and one adult have alleged they were man-handled by the police and it has caused a lot of friction in the area. Contrast the attitude here with what happened several hundred yards away in the Fountain where the police did not interfere.
“The young people immediately began collecting bonfire material again, including tyres this time and the result is a bonfire in the middle of the road. I have been here all weekend talking to them, as have residents, pleading with them to go back to the original spot on the banking but they have just point blank refused.
“It’s a massive step backwards for this community. But I don’t see any reasons for having these fires here. The only symbolic thing about this is that it’s symbolic of the failure of the politicians of the area, and the community workers in the area to enter into a relationship with these young people,” he continued.
Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, however, claimed that a proposed resolution to the stand-off had been scuppered.
“A bonfire has been erected on Lecky Road against the wishes of the residents in the area.
“Tyres have now been added to this bonfire in a built-up residential area and that will mean homes being exposed to toxic fumes.
“Extensive efforts have been going on in recent days to find a resolution and a resolution was found. Those who scuppered these efforts need to answer to the people of the Bogside and, indeed, the people of this city why this was the case.”
An open meeting was held outside Dove House in the area on Sunday afternoon at which a decision was taken to place the bonfire in the middle of the road in an attempt to minimise damage and to have it moved away from underground gas linesin the district.
Colr. Donnelly said: “I am aware that a number of paid community workers in the area were aware of the meeting but took a decision not to turn up.
“That’s a matter for them. The only person that turned up was Kathleen Bradley, but the decision had already been made to put the bonfire in the road. However, fair play to her, she did come and liaise with the young people about the safety aspects involved.
“I don’t know if everybody did enough to prevent this.
“In fact, I would go as far as to say that this was deliberately orchestrated from the situation last year when the Fire Service openly praised the young people, to the situation we have now - a bonfire full of tyres on the middle of the road.”
Michael Doherty, a resident of Durrow Park, whose home is just yards from the bonfire told the ‘Journal’: “I believe the material on the road and around the area wouldn’t be here only for the actions of the police last week. There was less than a quarter of the material here at that stage. More material was arriving in van loads after the police raid. In think this was badly handled and there was no engagement.
“In fairness to them, the only statutory organisation that has engaged has been the Fire Service who have been very good and who have spoken to the kids involved. Bonfires shouldn’t be placed in built up areas. They just shouldn’t be there.
“But the problem is that you have kids here seeing what’s obstensibly a protected species of bonfires in Belfast where police are not raiding there and in the Fountain as well, but they are coming in here and removing material.
“It put their backs up. If the police action last week was aimed at resolving the issue, it effectively achieved the opposite. That’s the problem.”
Meanwhile, People Before Profit MLA, Eamonn McCann, last night appealed for plans to light the bonfire to be abandoned.
“If we want to know why the young people are involved in doing what they are doing, we have to listen rather than denounce. Some of the people and parties now telling bonfire builders to cut it out were previously encouraging bonfires around this time of year. Small wonder then that many youngsters are scornful of their advice.”