An attempt by hundreds of PSNI police to remove a bonfire in a deprived republican area of north Belfast has erupted in a riot this morning. Amid a standoff, one riot policeman has fallen to the ground after being struck by stone-throwing youths.
Youths stayed on top of the bonfire as dozens of armoured vehicles and riot police invaded the New Lodge area this morning. The bonfire is due to be lit tonight, the anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial.
The largest remaining nationalist bonfire in the north of Ireland is broadly opposed by New Lodge residents themselves. The event is blamed every year by politicians and media on young people they describe as “scumbags” and “hoods”.
Its construction took place amid small-scale rioting over the course of last week.
In recent days, “contractors beware” has been written on local walls, an apparent threat to those hired to remove the wood pile. That echoed a successful tactic of loyalists last month after their bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre was threatened with removal but subsequently allowed to proceed.
However, the response of the PSNI on this occasion has been dramatically different, with scores of regular and riot police, some armed with plastic bullet guns and police dogs deployed this morning into the heart of the republican area.
PSNI encircled the bonfire, creating a police line which soon came under attack from stones and other missiles.
Appeals by grassroots republicans for the PSNI to pull back to allow a mediated solution have gone unheeded. The situation remains volatile, with growing numbers of youths are gathering in the area. One member of the PSNI was seen to fall to the ground after being struck by a large stone.
Sinn Fein has called for the removal of the bonfire. Local representative Caral Ni Chuilin said the bonfire “isn’t wanted” and should be removed, and “all the criminal behaviour needs dealt with”.