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Council agrees to adopt licensing for bonfires

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

MID-ULSTER Council has formally approved moving towards a process of licensing bonfires held on its property.

The nationalist-controlled Council's Environment Committee approved plans on how to deal with bonfires in future.

And this will include "the production of an application procedure for use of Council facilities and open spaces for cultural celebrations".

The Council opted not to proceed with another option before it, which was to adopt the same approach as the NI Housing Executive, which featured a greater emphasis on working alongside bonfire builders and local communities.

In a paper brought to the Council, the plans include a "Council commitment" to only consider a bonfire event when "the event organiser demonstrates that the event / site will be managed safely" and also that conditions in relation to the type of materials being burned, public safety and Council conditions in relations to emblems and flags would be met, in accordance with their Good Relations guidelines.

It is also stated the Council will remove bonfire materials if they are on Council land and "local communities / residents are not in support of a bonfire taking place" or "organisers are not adhering to safety / environmental requirements".

A 'Strategic Action Plan' is to be drawn up by the Council to tackle bonfires over the enxt two to five years.

In addition to the plans to have licensing through an application process, the Council states it will "promote educational interventions to demonstrate the social and environmental impacts associated with bonfires and highlight the benefits and advantages of a more inclusive alternative celebration in support of Good Relations".

They will also "support communities in the positive celebration of their cultural heritage through managed events" such as fun days and beacons which, the Council says would be "open and inclusive".

The move would go further than steps taken in the past few months by builders of the 11th July bonfire in Killymerron, Dungannon.

In a letter seen by the Courier and issued by the Killymerron Bonfire Group to residents, they bonfire builders committed to "put in place a traffic management arrangement to ensure clear access" for all, to ensure the estate is "litter picked and left clean and tidy", to look at the possibility of installing fencing around the bonfire as it is built "to prevent the unwanted dumping of hazardous materials" and to continue to liaise with various public bodies in relation to the bonfire arrangements.

At a meeting of the Council's Environment Committee last week, the proposals were passed by a majority of members.

Nationalist members all voted for the proposals, while the DUP voted against them. The UUP abstained from the vote.

Speaking after the meeting, DUP Dungannon Councillor said the moves would serve a "republican agenda" and criticised the UUP for their approach to the matter.

He said: "Regrettably, Mid-Ulster Council are travelling a road in relation to bonfires which will serve only one purpose: to fulfil a republican agenda. This will result in heightened community tensions which may lead to a potentially uncontrollable situation.

“The March Environment committee effectively rubber stamped the proposals put forward at the previous month's meeting by SF and, surprisingly, the UUP.

I proposed at both meetings that the way forward was to engage with communities, to encourage safe practices and follow a model already put in place by other statutory agencies.

“Council should also welcome and commend, rather than attack, the recent unprecedented move by Killymerron bonfire builders after they acknowledged the serious damage caused to property last year, and have committed to implement measures that ensure this won't be repeated.

I warned Council to tread carefully and not to come in heavy handed; this will not solve any issue. I will continue to work with communities and to encourage bonfire groups to progress and conduct celebrations in as safe an environment as possible.

As I am previously on record as saying: no property owner should have to deal with a situation where their home, their pride and joy, is damaged. Regrettably, the route put forward by SF, SDLP and the UUP, if enforced by Council Officers, will, I believe, not achieve this."

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