Council urged to adopt derided bonfire scheme

A loyalist bonfire on the Eleventh Night. Picture: Arthur Allison: Pacemaker
A loyalist bonfire on the Eleventh Night. Picture: Arthur Allison: Pacemaker

A Northern Ireland council has been given a recommendation to introduce a licensing scheme for bonfires that unionists say is an attack on their culture.

In March this year, Mid Ulster District Council voted in favour of introducing a ‘Bonfire Management Programme’ despite strenuous opposition from unionists, who slammed the proposals.

In June, the bonfire licensing scheme, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, went out for public consultation following a legal challenge from unionists on the council.

Now, a report has been prepared based on the consultation and it has been shown to councillors.

The News Letter understands consultants have put forward a recommendation that the council adopts the scheme.

While the document presented to councillors has not yet been made public by the council, the News Letter understands that more than 30% of respondents opposed the proposals for a licensing programme.

The report will now be discussed by the environmental committee at Mid Ulster District Council. Any decision taken by the committee will then require ratification by a full meeting of council.

The next scheduled full council meeting is due to take place on December 13.

Ulster Unionist councillor Trevor Wilson described the bonfire proposal as “an attack on the unionist culture”.

“What the council are proposing to bring in is that the bonfire builders will have to go for public liability,” he said.

“That’s not going to happen. Who is going to put their name down?

“Last year there were no incidents reported to the police of anti-social behaviour surrounding bonfires.”

He continued: “They’re using a sledgehammer here to crack a nut and attack the unionist culture.

“This document has still to go to full council for ratification but Sinn Fein and the SDLP are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

DUP councillor Wilbert Buchanan shared a similar view.

“This is an attempt to eradicate or minimise unionist culture,” he told the News Letter.

“This will have to go to the environment committee and then it would have to be stamped by the full council.

“In my experience the bonfire builders are very responsible and it’s all self-regulated.

“Last year, they even used those bonfire barriers that are sort of like a cage. They’re going down the line of self regulation with smaller fires and no tyres.”

Mr Buchanan added: “Of course as a DUP councillor I would be keen to allow people their full cultural expression and in my view they are using a sledgehammer to try and crack a nut here.”

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster District Council said: “An initial briefing on the outcome of the consultation on the council’s draft bonfire management policy has taken place for councillors and partner agencies.

“The full consultation report, with recommendations, will be considered by the council’s bonfire working group before the council’s environment committee recommends further steps in early 2019.”