Q Radio News
Guns could be used during severe violence orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries if Belfast bonfire material is removed, one of Northern Ireland's most senior police officers said.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) opposes Belfast City Council's proposed clearance operation after builders of the pyre trespassed on the local authority's land near a leisure centre in the east of the city.
It is due to be burned on Thursday evening at the start of the loyalist Twelfth of July celebrations.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said: "The intelligence picture indicates that any attempt by the Council to remove bonfire material will cause a severe violent confrontation, orchestrated by the UVF.
"The use of firearms during such disorder cannot be ruled out."
He said officers were committed to help the council fulfil its decision to clear the site at Avoniel leisure centre car park before the traditional Eleventh Night bonfires are lit.
But a contractor due to carry out the work has pulled out.
Alliance Party city councillor Emmet McDonough Brown said: "We are asking the police to intervene to support us at that site."
🎥 .@JamieBrysonCPNI hits back at claims from @allianceparty Cllr @EmmetMcDB that police have said East Belfast UVF is orchestrating activity at Avoniel bonfire. Says he’ll be speaking with @PoliceServiceNI “to clarify what they are alleged to have said.” pic.twitter.com/Il9ovfPLPs— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) July 10, 2019
On Wednesday evening local residents organised a family fun day beside the 20-feet high pallet bonfire. It included a performance of loyalist songs by the Rising Sons Flute Band.
🎥 Festivities getting into full swing at the Avoniel bonfire ... pic.twitter.com/S6H8ZolTxP— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) July 10, 2019
Organisers warned against violence but acknowledged anger in the community over the planned clearance.
🎥 Robert Girvin, East Belfast Cultural Collective, at Avoniel bonfire says whatever happens over next 24 hours “No-one wants any violence...if anyone thinks they are going to come down here and cause violence - stay away.” pic.twitter.com/QG5He8RhG7— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) July 10, 2019
The UVF was a pre-ceasefire armed group.
Despite taking part in the peace process it has more recently been accused by police of gangsterism and racketeering involving drugs and intimidation.
Mr Hamilton said: "I would urge people to heed the calls from the community and not to engage in any violent or criminal behaviour.
"The PSNI hopes to see a peaceful resolution to this issue.
"As always, it is the safety of the community that remains our primary concern. All PSNI actions must be lawful and proportionate and the situation continues to be kept under review."
Meanwhile, a large bonfire in Portadown's Corcrain estate was lit on Wednesday night and passed off without incident.
Some councillors had described it as a health risk.
However, local resident and councillor Darren Causby says safety measures were put in place...