Belfast Telegraph

DUP anger as Belfast council passes motion on bonfire safety

Belfast City Council is being turned into the "bonfire police", a DUP councillor has said.

Lee Reynolds was speaking after a new measure giving staff or private contractors permission to remove materials from sites was approved during a special meeting at City Hall last night.

 

A Sinn Fein motion was passed by 31 votes to 21 after the republican party said a small number of fires were built dangerously close to homes or businesses and the poisonous gases produced were affecting the health of those who lived nearby.

A last minute amendment to the motion saw a clause inserted that meant it only applied to those fires which posed a threat to life or property.

DUP group leader Mr Reynolds said: "Some people are trying to turn us into the Belfast bonfire police and it is not going to work, it is as simple as that."

The council is currently reviewing its bonfire policies after it stored pallets for an east Belfast pyre which were subsequently stolen.

Unionists argued last night's meeting was unnecessary and premature given the review.

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

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

The annual arguments over bonfires continued unabated this summer after windows in a high-rise building in Belfast city centre shattered and other scorch damage was sustained.

Firefighters spent the night dousing the tower on Wellwood Street with water in an effort to prevent it catching fire.

And a son of the late Martin McGuinness called for an end to "displays of hate" after a coffin bearing a picture of his father was placed on one bonfire in Belfast.

But Sinn Fein representatives argued there was no war on loyalist or unionist culture, and they were only putting the interests of all the people of Belfast first.

Sinn Fein's council leader Jim McVeigh said there was a paranoia about the intentions of republicans.

"This is about standing up to hate, it is about standing up to sectarianism, it is about standing against racism, against homophobia, against transphobia," he said.

"This is not about all bonfires. 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.

"People should be able to celebrate their culture without offending anyone.

"We have to work together and respect each other."

Before the Eleventh Night Belfast City Council attained a court order banning loyalists from stacking up more wood for the fires.

That order appeared to have been broken.

During the near two-hour long meeting, independent unionist Ruth Patterson claimed the purpose of the motion was to set a precedent for next July and to target unionist culture.

She said: "They want to make this council chamber the front line of a war on the unionist community."

Alliance's Michael Long said there would be no impact on the majority of bonfires where people acted responsibly.

"Alliance supports positive, respectful and safe expressions of culture," he said.

"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."

The PUP's Dr John Kyle said progress had been made, with fewer bonfires and less anti-social behaviour.

He said it seemed to many that efforts were being made to "expunge" unionist culture from Northern Ireland.

"Do we want to create a culture where everyone is cherished, respected and understood, including loyalists?"

Tim Attwood of the SDLP said the Fire Service should be able to put out bonfires where they posed a risk to property. "Let's try to find a way forward to support cultural expression but eliminate the dangers of bonfires," he added.

David Browne of the UUP said tens of thousands of fires went off without a hitch and those that did cause concern were dealt with. He added: "It is a nonsense to say all bonfires are unsafe. There are admittedly a few that cause problems, but they are small in number."

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