Legal challenge over bonfire permit scheme

Unionists have requested a 'call-in' of Mid Ulster Council's bonfire licensing scheme
Unionists have requested a 'call-in' of Mid Ulster Council's bonfire licensing scheme

Unionists are to mount a legal challenge over a nationalist controlled council’s decision to implement a licensing system for bonfires.

The eight DUP members of Mid Ulster Council have requested a ‘call-in’ procedure, which will see a lawyer examine the legality of the move.

The controversial decision, which was supported by the nationalist parties, has been branded by DUP group leader Paul McLean as “a form of ethnic cleansing”.

A ‘call-in’ can be requested if 15% of councillors believe a decision was not properly reached or would adversely affect a section of the community.

In a letter to the council, the DUP said the move would have a “direct discriminatory impact on Protestants”.

They added that the policy was adopted without proper public consultation and no Equality Impact Assessment.

“Historically bonfires have been associated to a greater extent with the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland, therefore by implementing such a policy it has a major impact on the celebrating of the unionist / Protestant culture,” the letter added.

“The implementation of such a policy sends a clear, unambiguous and negative message to the Protestant and unionist sections of Mid-Ulster.”

The bonfire licensing scheme is thought to be the first of its kind in the Province.

The policy means that a bonfire will only be considered on council land where the organiser “can demonstrate the event and site will be managed safely and where certain conditions are met”.

This requires that “no hazardous or toxic materials are collected, stored or burned” and “no flags, emblems or effigies are burned”.

A Mid Ulster Council spokesperson said: “An admissible call in has been received in relation to the Council’s decision on bonfire procedures.

“As required under the Local Government Act, legal opinion has been sought and the decision will be brought back to the Council for reconsideration.”