Belfast Telegraph

DUP calls for independent review of Belfast City Council bonfire removal decision

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP has called for an independent review of Belfast council's decision to allow staff and contractors to remove material from bonfires anywhere inside the city limits.

The party is challenging the legality of the measure.

The measure was approved during a special meeting of the city council on Wednesday evening.

Sinn Fein 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.

The DUP said the republican party's motion, which was carried by 31 votes to 21, was attempting to transform the local authority into "bonfire police".

Sinn Fein's council leader Jim McVeigh said: "This is about standing up to hate, it is about standing up to sectarianism, it is about standing against racism, against homophobia, against transphobia."

However, the DUP has moved to "call in" the decision.

DUP group leader on the council Lee Reynolds explained: "There is a period of time after any council decision to all it to be called in. This can be made on two points, either that it is bad process or that it adversely impacts one side of the community in the Assembly.

"We are arguing it does both.

"It will be up for an independent lawyer now to look at the decision and to decide on the issue."

Depending on the solicitor's findings the matter could be referred back to council and subject to a "qualified majority" vote, similar to a cross-community vote.

Sinn Fein said the move - given the policy was an existing policy in the council - was "wrong and misguided".  Councillor Deirdre Hargey said the DUP challenge would put lives at risk.

“It seems that the rights and entitlements of those at risk from rogue bonfires matter little to the unionist parties on the city council while they indulge wholesale lawlessness of those involved in building rogue bonfires.”

At Wednesday night's council meeting the motion passed stated:

"This council is opposed to bonfires where they present a threat to life, to property, to the environment, where they cause damage to public amenities and where they facilitate hate crime activities.

"On the basis of these concerns this Council gives permission to Council officers to remove bonfire materials or employ contractors to facilitate the removal of bonfire materials from Council sites and other sites which belong to Statutory Agencies and those which are in private ownership.

"Any new policy should be considered through the upcoming review, with the committee process respected, and that this review should take account of other parallel processes."

Councillor Lee Reynolds added: "We are supposed to be having a full review of bonfires and this has pre-judged and preempted that.

"It is wrong to say that this motion is targeted just at those bonfires that pose a risk. There are a series of grounds and it goes much much further."

In how to deal with the issues surrounding bonfires, he added: "Unionism has taken the lead in calling a convention in the autumn. Let that convene and see what comes from that.

"Communities should be free to celebrate the Twelfth in best possible way and we will ensure that continues."

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman added: “We can confirm that a call in request has been submitted and is currently being examined. Call-in is a mechanism within legislation (section 41 of the Local Government Act 2014) whereby a defined number of councillors can request that decisions are reconsidered on specific grounds. In this case the grounds are community impact and procedural.”

Alliance, which supported the motion said it was disappointed with the move.

“Following their decision on the injunction last month, the DUP have attempted to deflect from that by ever more ridiculous actions," said Councillor Michael Long.

"This latest stunt adds to that list in what appears another attempt to exacerbate the situation.

“Alliance supports respectful and safe expressions of culture, but these powers are in relation to dangerous bonfires, no other ones. It is poor form from some parties to say they are opposed to the motion purely to prevent them having to show some leadership in the community.”

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