Let’s leave bonfires in past, says MP Maskey

Morning after the night before a familiar sight

By Francesca Ryan

EIGHT arrests were made after violence erupted at a bonfire in West Belfast.

A number of police officers were injured, two requiring hospital treatment, during trouble at what was billed as an ‘anti-internment bonfire’ in the Divis area on Thursday night.

The arrests were made after the police came under attack with missiles, including paint bombs, bottles and masonry.

Two women aged 26 and 27 and two boys aged 14 and 16 have been charged with riotous behaviour. All four are expected to appear before Belfast Magistrates Court today (Thursday).

When we visited the scene of the bonfire on Friday morning, the fire was still smouldering and a devastating mess greeted commuters who were trying to make their way to work.

Hundreds of empty bottles, empty alcohol cases and blue bags were strewn across the area. Bizarrely, a gazebo and deckchairs were still standing just below Divis Tower amid the pile of alcohol-related debris and broken glass.

It was a similar scene in Poleglass where at least five fires were still burning on Friday morning on Good Shepherd Road.

The blazes were mindlessly set alight in the middle of a road that leads to two schools, a youth centre and a residential street.  The scorched piles were radiating strong heat the following morning as motorists drove through the glass and debris to go about their business.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said bonfires “need to be left in the past”.

“A lot of people involved in this bonfire are anti-community and are on a daily basis making life miserable for the people in the lower Falls area,” he said.

“The stark difference in West Belfast this week was the thousands who have been attending Féile an Phobail, with bigger crowds than ever, and a tiny minority who for whatever reason believe they can visit this type of destruction on the community.

“Bonfires such as these need to be left in the past. The majority of the community have moved on and see these fires as an excuse for anti-social activity, including drinking, drug-taking and abusing residents. They have nothing to do with commemorating internment or political struggle.

“At the same time there are a number of young people who do collect wood for these bonfires that are not involved with the more sinister criminal elements. These young people need to be convinced that there are better ways to use their energies.

“Statutory bodies, local community and political representatives need to come together and ensure that everything possible is done to bring these destructive events to an end.”

The SDLP’s Councillor Colin Keenan also condemned the violence visited upon the local community of Divis by the anti-social elements associated with the bonfire.

“For the last number of weeks local people and tourists passing by have been the subject of both verbal and physical assaults,” he said.  “In addition, much damage has been caused to local residents’ property, with many of the residents I spoke to telling me that they have lived in fear during this August period, which they shouldn’t have to be in this day and age – especially in their own homes.

“That’s why I utterly condemn the actions of those who have organised this bonfire and I appeal to them to be more mindful and respectful of the communities they live in.

“Going forward I, along with other representatives of the community, will continue to champion West Belfast as a place for all to come, visit and enjoy.

“Anti-social elements will not be allowed to destroy this community which so many of us have worked hard to build over the years,” added Cllr Keenan.

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