Parties divided over bonfire management issue

The July 11 bonfire in New Mossley. (Archive pic)
The July 11 bonfire in New Mossley. (Archive pic)

A programme which will see more stringent measures being introduced for the running of local bonfires has been approved by council.

However, total agreement between the elected representatives could not be found in the chamber and the issue sparked much debate.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is planning to work with local communities to bring about improvements in bonfire management.

Measures to make the events more inclusive, as well as improving safety and bringing an increased family atmosphere will be brought in.

The move will also attempt to further reduce the adverse health and environmental impacts of bonfires, including the illegal disposal of waste.

Speaking to the Times after the programme was approved, Cllr Phillip Brett said: “Bonfires have come a long way in a relatively short period; we want to continue the family-friendly environment that allows people to celebrate their culture without offending others, the case at the vast majority of bonfires. The DUP will not allow the actions of small minorities at these events to take away from the thousands across our borough who partake in lawful and legitimate celebrations.

“Work will continue to address outstanding issues at a small number of sites.”

Cllr Noreen McClelland said: “I am disappointed that total agreement could not be reached on the new programme. This is a new programme and it would have given the council the opportunity to make a very clear statement and spell out to those who continually burn posters, effigies, flags and emblems on bonfires, that it is totally unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.”

The SDLP representative added: “I understand the cultural aspect of these events and what it means to a section of our community, but organisers of bonfires must be aware of the hurt and distress caused by burning flags, posters, effigies and emblems. I believe we had the opportunity for real change and I am disappointed all council members could not see this.”

Alliance representative, Cllr Billy Webb said: “I am very disappointed that an opportunity was lost to send out a strong message from the council that we would not tolerate the use of offensive items, such as flags, emblems or effigies, on bonfires. We should be imposing a sanction if offensive items are used on a bonfire, not turning a blind eye.”

UUP and Sinn Fein representatives were asked to comment. UUP preferred not to comment, Sinn Fein did not reply.

The council has confirmed the approval of the bonfire management programme, which will come into effect this year.

A council spokesperson said: “Work has been under way to formulate a bonfire management programme for the new council from 2016 onwards with consultations taking place with elected members and local individuals and groups who have been involved in the delivery of previous bonfire management programmes within the legacy Antrim and Newtownabbey councils. Feedback from these discussions has been incorporated into the programme. Groups who don’t comply with the programme can incur a potential reduction in the funding for noncompliance. Since this will be the first operational year of the programme, members have indicated that a review will take place in August, at which point any adjustments can be made to improve the delivery for forthcoming years.”