Some 2,000 people gathered around a massive bonfire in the middle of a main road in Londonderry last night as it was set alight about 11.30pm.
The annual bonfire - built to celebrate A Catholic Feast for ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’ on August 15 - was on Lecky Road in the republican Bogside area.
Unusually, it was bedecked with several Sinn Fein election posters - and DUP - as well as the Union Flag, the flags of Northern Ireland, Israel and the Irish Football Association. Police said they were monitoring the situation.
People Before Profit MLA Eammon McCann said yesterday afternoon: “The bonfire in the middle of the Lecky Road should never have been built.”
Some seven hours before it was ignited, he called for plans to light it to be abandoned.
“This is the position of every MLA for the area, and I share it.”
But he added: “If we want to know why the young people involved are doing what they are doing, we have to listen rather than denounce and demonise.
“Some of the people and parties now telling the bonfire builders to cut it out were previously encouraging bonfires - and more - around this time every year. Small wonder that many youngsters are scornful of their advice.”
Also on the bonfire was a large sign reading, ‘You’s shouldn’t have taken our wood’.
It is understood this refers to an enforcement notice by Derry City Council which forced the owner of a derelict building at nearby Meenan Square to remove the materials for the original Catholic feast bonfire stored within his property. Police confirmed that they attended while a contractor removed the materials on Thursday.
And while it is understood there was strong support for the removal of the materials, republican youths were angered at the move, which they felt was discriminating against them compared to the ‘hands off’ approach they perceive being taken towards loyalist bonfires.
Locals see a link with Thursday’s operation to remove the materials and a subsequent suspect device left at the city’s Butcher Gate on Friday night, which disrupted the annual Apprentice Boys’ ceremony at midnight. When police moved in to deal with the device they were attacked with 25 petrol bombs from youths in the Fahan Street area.