The first test of Belfast City Council’s new policy on removal of bonfire material has been met with scenes of destruction, as young people in south and west Belfast set fire to cars and an old credit union building after contractors lifted wood from their areas.
Wood and other material was removed from a bonfire site in the Divis area of west Belfast in a dawn operation on Monday with workers supported by riot police.
Violence broke out in the area on Monday night. An old credit union building was torched and youths attempted to hijack buses.
Shortly after 5am on Monday, contractors hired by the council moved in to remove wood from a nationalist anti internment bonfire site in the Markets area of south Belfast.
Four cars, all belonging to city centre workers, were set on fire in the Stewart Street area of the Markets, several other cars were badly damaged.
Police escort a young woman back to retrieve her car in the Markets area of south Belfast after a number of vehicles were set on fire.
Gangs of young people were involved in running battles with the PSNI in the Friendly Street and Stewart Street areas, the PSNI maintained a heavy presence throughout the day.
Some workers, finishing shifts in nearby office blocks, were transported in the back of police Land Rovers to retrieve their vehicles as crowds of youths continued to throw stones and bottles.
A car burns in the Markets area of Belfast as disturbances involving nationalist youths angry at removal of bonfire material continue. @PA pic.twitter.com/bNjcRE1Y9l
— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) August 7, 2017
One call centre worker, originally from the Ukraine, said he now has no way of getting to work for his 6am shift after his car was set on fire and completely destroyed.
“I’ve lived here for ten years, I’ve never known this before, I’ll get a bus home but don’t know how I’m getting to work tomorrow,” he said.
Young people involved in running battles with police wave a UDA flag in the nationalist Markets area.
Around 40 teenagers, with their faces covered with scarves, were involved in the disturbances, however, some of those involved in stone throwing were children as young as ten-years-old.
Last week Belfast City Council passed a motion to allow workers to remove materials from any bonfire site in the city, whether it be on public or private land.
Read more: Allison Morris – council’s hardline stance on bonfires ended in predictable violence
Private contractors were hired to carry out the work, deemed too dangerous for Belfast City Council staff.
The private company was hired prior to the July loyalist bonfires to remove bonfire wood, however, their services were not used until after the passing of last week’s motion.
Despite this there were reports of threats to staff being issued yesterday. The council refused to comment on alleged threats to workers.
PSNI Inspector Jamie Hughes said: “The physical removal of bonfire material is not within our remit, but we work with other agencies to support them as they carry out their duties.
“Contractors removed bonfire materials from the Stewart Street area of Belfast.
“Police were in attendance to ensure there were no breaches of the peace and no intimidation of workers or members of the public.”
A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said; “We can confirm that bonfire material was removed from the site of the car park in Stewart Street this morning”.
Alliance councillor for south Belfast, Emmet McDonough-Brown said: “The damage to property which has occurred is clearly mindless and serves no wider purpose.
“People locally will be disgusted that this has happened in their community, as will people across the city. I would urge calm and encourage anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area to contact the PSNI.”
Sinn Féin Councillor for the Market area in Belfast, Deirdre Hargey said it amounted to “mindless vandalism”.
“The community does not want this type of behaviour and it’s not representative of the people of this area”.
Police patrol in the Markets area of south Belfast after a number of vehicles were set on fire.