Unionists slam council decision on bonfires

Bonfires are a contentious issue in many areas of Northern Ireland. (Archive pic by Pacemaker Press)
Bonfires are a contentious issue in many areas of Northern Ireland. (Archive pic by Pacemaker Press)

A move by Mid Ulster District Council to introduce what is believed to be Northern Ireland’s first ever permit system for bonfires on council property has been branded “another attack on unionist culture”.

Members of the council last week agreed by 20 votes to nine that the local authority should introduce a ‘Bonfire Management Programme’.

Confirming what was approved, a council spokesperson said: “The council has agreed that, as part of a series of actions to address the risk associated with bonfires, a Bonfire Management Programme be introduced. The proposals would mean 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 (e.g. no hazardous or toxic materials are collected, stored or burned; no flags, emblems or effigies are burned). Organisers would, therefore, apply for permission to stage a bonfire on council property. The detail of the application process is now being considered.”

The council’s decision has been welcomed by Sinn Fein Councillor Brian McGuigan as “a sensible approach”.

He said the new strategy would allow council staff to meet their statutory obligations whilst allowing groups to enjoy cultural events.

However, many unionists are unhappy with the move, with UUP Cllr Trevor Wilson claiming Sinn Fein had “ridden roughshod over the views of unionists.”

“They won’t listen to or even attempt to take on board the views of unionists who will see this as another attack on their culture,” he said.

The UUP group leader also questioned how the scheme will be enforced and what the penalties might be for infringements.

Also criticising the council’s decision, DUP Cllr Paul McLean claimed the move is “part of an orchestrated plan by Sinn Fein to stop eleventh night bonfires.”

“There are eight bonfires on council land. Bonfires organisers have already conducted community consultations and published plans to ensure 2018 bonfires are safe and family friendly.

“This haughty approach was unnecessary. This could have been better managed by working with communities rather than taking a heavy-handed regulatory approach. Leading is always better than driving.

“Such a dictatorial approach will damage community relations and will confirm for many unionists that the SF controlled Mid Ulster Council has zero consideration for their culture,” the local DUP group leader said.