Power struggle over Ballymena bonfire
Power struggle over Ballymena bonfire

Scuffles involving Sinn Fein representatives broke out after materials assembled for a republican bonfire in Ballymena were removed on Wednesday night at the request of a resident opposed to the event.

Local republicans from the Dunclug estate were incensed by the act, which was supported by Sinn Fein and carried out by Ballymena Borough Council.

The bonfire and rally to commemorate internment in the area has previously seen speakers from the Irish Republican Socialist Party and had become a focus for local republicans opposed to Sinn Fein’s political direction.

An angry confrontation involving republican youths and the PSNI police took place at the home of the man at the centre of the dispute yesterday.

Sinn Fein representatives and a BBC camera crew arrived after stones were thrown and tempers escalated outside the man’s home, which suffered a broken window. Assembly member Daithi McKay and Sinn Fein Moyle District councillor Padraig McShane said they were later struck by “thugs” who were at odds with the wishes of the community.

Mr McKay said those involved have “done nothing but bring this area down and target innocent people’s homes”.

“A bonfire has been held in the estate here every August and a handful of people have clearly used this to carry out attacks on houses in this estate,” Mr McKay said.

“That is why the community does not want to see a bonfire held here this year and we will support the community in taking this stance.”

The resident who asked for the bonfire’s removal described himself as a community worker, but otherwise did not wish to be identified. He said he was shocked at the lack of support for his stance by local residents and he was now planning to leave the area.

“There is not much future for us, I can’t see how the regeneration plans are going to work,” he said.

Meanwhile, the organisers of the bonfire accused Sinn Fein of being out of touch with local sentiment.

Local republican Chris Smiley said the bonfire had been held for over 25 years and said Sinn Fein had “come in now and tried to take over” without offering any alternative.

He vowed that the bonfire would be rebuilt in time for the commemoration on August 9.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News