A UUP councillor has said Nationalist controlled Mid Ulster Council needs to “build up trust with bonfire builders” instead of forging ahead with a policy which will be resisted and cost thousands of pounds to enforce.
Councillor Walter Cuddy was speaking as tensions mounted over bonfire organisers having to seek formal permission before building on council property.
The Council says it has brought in external advisers who are currently engaging with bonfire organisers.
Councillor Cuddy, who resigned from the council’s bonfire working group last month, said there has been a complete breakdown in trust between the council and bonfire builders.
He argued that a more sensible approach was needed as bonfires have been reduced in size as a result of the council’s hardworking community development team working with the organisers.
He said it should be about the council working with all sections of the community, and “bringing it together as the bonfires are not going to go away.”
Councillor Cuddy said many of the organisers are adults and ratepayers and deserve equality like the Travelling community which the council is “going out of its way to facilitate”.
Sinn Féin Councillor Brian McGuigan stressed the new policy covered all events on council property regardless of what time of the year they are held.
He said the policy was about protecting the council from risk.
“In terms of rolling that out it’s through an action plan starting with community engagement first of all and trying to bring it along in that line.
“It’s not a case of going in hard and fast and saying you can’t have bonfires next month or whatever,” he said. “It has to be a process and that process will be brought forward through an action plan.”
DUP Deputy Chair Councillor Clement Cuthbertson said while the consultation was welcome and something he has called for, he believed it was “only a box ticking exercise.”
“As I stated at the council meeting, Mid Ulster Council have adopted a policy before consulting on the ground - it is a case of putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
“Community engagement should of come first. Bonfire builders have made tremendous progress over this past few years in regards to self regulating. They must also be commended for the steps they have taken to remove tyres and toxic materials. It’s not many years back since tyres were the entire bonfire, now they are virtually non-existent in the majority.
“The council, by going ahead to adopt a policy without proper community engagement and without proper cooperation with other statutory Departments, I believe has done serious damage to people’s trust in the Council.
“We have seen since the formation of MUDC the removal of the Union Flag from Council buildings, the banning of the Royal British Legion Poppy, foisting the Irish Language on the community through the Council logo and signage.
“The Unionist community view this as a continuation of the attempted erosion of their British identity. I want the Council to be inclusive and respectful of our British identity. We need a fair, balanced and respectful society.”
A spokesperson for the British Truth Forum claimed the council was engaged in undermining Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist culture “by their aggression against 11th night bonfires. He urged bonfire builders not to engage with the external advisers.