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Tali-bonfire Stormont ministers meet as tensions rise over Belfast bonfire run by 'Taliban' youths

It is understood the group of youths have stockpiled petrol bombs in case authorities come to remove the bonfire

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CONCERNS are mounting about a loyalist bonfire being constructed close to a north Belfast interface.
The being bonfire  erected on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens, has increased in size in recent days.

CONCERNS are mounting about a loyalist bonfire being constructed close to a north Belfast interface. The being bonfire erected on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens, has increased in size in recent days.

CONCERNS are mounting about a loyalist bonfire being constructed close to a north Belfast interface. The being bonfire erected on the Tigers Bay side of Duncairn Gardens, has increased in size in recent days.

Stormont ministers have met to discuss a controversial bonfire in north Belfast which is currently being "protected" by loyalist youths nicknamed "The Taliban".

Justice Minister Naomi Long, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon met this week to discuss several bonfires which have raised concerns, including the one at Tiger’s Bay.

Last week the SDLP had said they were “adamant” that the bonfire would not go ahead due to fears over sectarian violence between gangs in the New Lodge and Tigers Bay.

After this newspaper’s report on Sunday surrounding the bonfire, rumours began to spread on social media saying the council had hired contractors to take down the pyre in the middle of the night.

Shortly afterwards, the loyalist youths added a large banner to the bonfire reading: 2Move at your own risk." Sources also said the gang then began to add to their stockpile of petrol bombs.

In April, rioting broke out in the Tigers Bay and Duncairn areas, close to where the bonfire is situated, with The Taliban heavily involved. The violence saw 14 police officers injured.

The Sunday World was told this week the loyalist group were ready to “lock themselves in” to the gated area where the bonfire has been built, and have “armed themselves with petrol bombs in case the police, the council or contractors come to try to remove it."

North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, has already claimed in the weeks running up to the Eleventh Night that the bonfire site was being used by youths to throw missiles including golf balls into nearby nationalist and republican areas in order to damage cars and property.

We reported at the weekend how the bonfire, situated between loyalist Tigers Bay and the republican New Lodge interface, is being ‘protected’ by a group of young loyalists who are known as The Taliban because they are under nobody’s control in the area.

In response, one loyalist activist tweeted: "The Sunday World have outdone themselves today. They have exposed a new loyalist group in Tigers Bay known as the ‘Taliban’. Yes, a supposedly serious publication actually printed that."

Another source explained how the fractious nature of paramilitary control over the last few years means “the gang of youngsters don’t really answer to anyone, because there isn’t really anyone to answer to in Tigers Bay - just like actual The Taliban in Afghanistan, who do what they want.

“They would remind you of the gang of out-of-control youngsters a few years back in west Belfast who basically stuck two fingers up at the Provos, and everyone called them the ‘Rugrats’.

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“So The Taliban aren’t really connected to the UVF or the UDA, they just want to have their bonfire and are determined to raise hell if anyone tries to take it away from them.”

Another senior loyalist said it was The Taliban gang that had the gates on the interface welded shut last year to prevent any attempt at last year’s fire being removed.

“These guys are nuts and I’m told they already have plans in place to attack the contractors and the cops if they move in to move the bonfire.

“Since John Bunting was stood down and his UDA crowd were booted out there hasn’t been any paramilitary group that controls the area.

“You might think that’s great but in times like this it’s sometimes handy to have someone keeping a lid on things when there are community tensions.”

The PSNI is reluctant to try and remove the bonfire after coming under fire trying to remove other ones in recent years.

In 2019 the PSNI had to retreat from the New Lodge area after failing to secure the area so contractors could remove an anti-internment bonfire.

Officers were pelted with bricks and bottles and at one stage nationalist youths charged police lines – several cops were injured.

Last night loyalists argued the interface bonfire has been there for years and was nothing new.

“There has been a bonfire at that site for years and every year there’s trouble afterwards,” said a senior loyalist from the area.

“But it looks like things are particularly tense after the trouble in April over the Protocol protests.

“It’s a generational thing between young loyalists and nationalists who regularly meet up for arranged fights in the tunnel near the train station.

“It’s sad but this is how young people on both sides make names for themselves. They fight the other side every year.”

A spokeswoman for DfI said: “The department is aware that a bonfire has been constructed close to the interface in Adam Street, north Belfast, on land under the responsibility of DfI, and options for dealing with this issue are being considered.”

A spokesman for the PSNI said its role is to support landowners.

“Police have no specific statutory responsibility to remove bonfires or waste material which has been left at bonfire sites,” she said.

“Local agreement between landowners, the local community and bonfire builders is always the most effective means of addressing these issues.

“Our role is to support landowners and other statutory agencies to carry out their roles if required.”

On Sunday, a Facebook group claiming to represent those behind the bonfire described the Tigers Bay community as being ‘under siege’ from the ‘pan-nationalist front’.

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