Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council approves motion to remove bonfire material from those posing threat

By Jonathan Bell

Belfast City Council has passed a motion allowing it to remove bonfire material from sites within the city boundaries.

Sinn Fein called the meeting, however, ahead of the debate the party put forward an amendment to the motion stating that the bonfires concerned were only those that threatened life or property.

Sinn Fein group leader Jim McVeigh said there was no "attack on unionist culture" but that culture should be celebrated while offending no one.

The DUP, however, argued that given the council's review of bonfires the matter was premature.

"To have this motion and policy before a review, is a contradiction, is a joke," said councillor Lee Reynolds who said community engagement was key.

"Progress on bonfires has only been achieved through the bonfire programme - that is a fact."

The motion was passed with 31 votes to 21.

 

After the meeting, councillor McVeigh added: "We are opposed to bonfires, which cause damage to homes and public amenities and which have been used to promote hate crime.

“Time and again the law is being broken and flouted at rogue bonfires and lives, property and the environment put at risk.

“The council has a duty to act and deal with these unacceptable bonfires and public displays of hate.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that residents who live close to these bonfires are protected, that they can feel safe in their own homes.

“Tonight’s motion enables council officers to remove bonfire materials from council and other sites, which belong to statutory agencies and those which are in private ownership with their consent.

“This sends out a strong message that this council stands against displays of racism, sectarianism and homophobia on bonfires in any part of the city.”

Alliance councillor Michael Long added: "We support positive, respectful and safe expressions of culture, however, bonfires which damage property, threaten the environment or people, or facilitate hate crimes are not that.

"I have worked on this issue for many years and recognise the good examples many bonfires set. We welcome the move by Sinn Fein to alter their motion prior to tonight’s vote and clarify this was not a move against all bonfires, which Alliance would not have supported.

“It is disappointing we had to have this meeting tonight, as the motion restated the previous Belfast City Council position, but it was needed because unionist Councillors were opposed to the continuation of that policy. This whole episode is an attempt by some parties to deflect from their decision last month to support the Council’s injunction against a number of bonfire sites in private and then refuse to admit that in public. For them to then go on to state this was an attempt to stop all bonfires is nothing other than a deliberate lie.

“I understand the anxiety felt by some bonfire builders in relation to this issue. If I had been told the lies they have been fed by some parties, I would be worried too. But I want to reassure them this motion was not about removing all bonfires and Alliance extends an invitation to meet with them to ensure an inclusive solution to this situation.

“Many people have worked hard to prevent damaging bonfires from taking place and I hope tonight’s decision allows the issue to be addressed further, whether in relation to unionist or nationalist bonfires. The buck-passing and blame game needs to stop, and a positive way forward agreed which builds on the progress made, so we don’t have this matter raising its head continually.”

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