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Council liaising with the PSNI over Omagh bonfire site

Pallets gathered on the council owned site beside the Camowen River.

Bonfire builders in the Hospital Road area of Omagh look set for another showdown with the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council over the location of an Eleventh Night pyre.

Material is currently being gathered on a council owned open green space along the Camowen River, which lies behind houses at Riverview Park/Edinburgh Park.

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An Eleventh Night bonfire has been advertised for the location tonight (Tuesday).

However council policy remains that bonfires cannot be built and burnt on its lands. The council website states: “Fermanagh and Omagh District Council does not permit bonfires on any of their grounds and will remove any such materials it believes are being used to make a bonfire.”

That policy led to a confrontation at the site last year, when council officers moved in to remove pallets and other material with a tractor and trailer.

Council workers move in to remove materials in July 2016.

The move sparked a local protest, with a number of local unionist representatives present. A council source said workers eventually left the site without materials following consultation with the PSNI.

The pyre was later lit on July 11 in spite of the policy, with an Irish tricolour burned on top.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has today (Tuesday) urged bonfire builders to desist from gathering materials on council owned lands.

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“The council reiterates its policy that bonfires are not permitted on council property and the council will continue to encourage the bonfire organisers not to contravene the council Policy,” it said in a statement to the Ulster Herald.

The council confirmed that it is liaising with the PSNI regarding the bonfire materials gathered at Riverview Park in Omagh, but added, “There is a heightened sensitivity around bonfires given the current situation in Belfast.”

The context of the Belfast reference is unclear, however an injunction sought by Belfast City Council over four bonfires on sites it owns in the city has sparked controversy. However despite clear breaches of the injunction, there seems no intention for the authorities to intervene.

Legal commentators have also suggested that the lack of clarity in the injunction makes it unenforceable.

The pyre which was lit on council owned property in Omagh on July 11 2016.

Sinn Féin’s Omagh Town councillor Martin McColgan said he fully expects council officers to enforce the policy and remove materials amassed at the site.

“Every effort will be made to remove bonfire materials, so long as that’s safe. As far as I know the intention this year is to remove bonfire material again.

“But if there’s a threat or a danger to our staff, we won’t endanger our staff,” he said. “But people should adhere to the council policy, especially the community and unionist leaders. They should ensure that none of the policies are broken and that people abide by the law.

“It’s not that anybody is opposed to bonfires,” added Cllr McColgan. “It’s the fact that we have a policy of no bonfires on council property.”

Omagh Town Ulster Unionist councillor Chris Smyth said he expects the bonfire to be built on the council property, but said, “I still think a heavy handed approach is not going to yield the appropriate result.”

He said removing the materials could “antagonise” locals and result in a confrontation similar to that seen last July.

He has called for “calm heads and a measured approach”.

“The idea that you can go in and take away something with no real dialogue, it leads to problems,” he said.

Cllr Smyth said he personally supports the concept of a beacon, which has been adopted in places such as Castlederg.

Rather than an organised group, Cllr Smyth described the bonfire builders as a loose collective of local people.

“Their approach is that they haven’t been provided with any sort of alternative, so they will continue.

“If they feel that the council is coming to cut down their culture, then they will re-double their efforts,” he added.

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