Belfast Telegraph

DUP legal bid to extinguish city council's bonfires vote

By Eamon Sweeney

The DUP has launched a legal action aimed at overthrowing a successful Sinn Fein-led motion at Belfast City Council to tackle dangerous bonfires.

On Wednesday, the council backed a Sinn Fein proposal that would allow council staff or private contractors to step in and remove bonfire material where they present a threat to life, property and the environment.

The motion also stated that intervention against bonfires should also take place "where they cause damage to public amenities and where they facilitate hate crime."

At the meeting, all unionists on Belfast City Council voted against the motion, which was carried by 31 votes to 21.

But yesterday a council spokeswoman confirmed that a call-in request has been submitted and is currently being examined. According to section 41 of the Local Government Act 2014, reconsideration of a decision must take place if 15% of councillors request it.

"In this case the grounds are community impact and procedural," the spokeswoman said.

Lee Reynolds, the DUP leader in City Hall, said: "Basically, these sections in the local government act give protection from bad decisions. That can be a bad decision taken as a result of bad process or one which will have a detrimental impact on one community or the other.

"The consequences of this can be different. If it is a matter of a bad process then it is a matter of taking another vote and the majority will hold sway.

"If, however, it is a matter of a decision which will have a detrimental impact on a community, this is where minority protections come into play."

At the meeting, Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh said: "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."

It recently emerged that fear of intimidation had resulted in the council using contractors from outside Northern Ireland to remove bonfire material.

The DUP-led challenge to the successful bonfire motion will now be examined by independent legal figures.

"We will be seeking a decision as soon as we can get one," Mr Reynolds said.

Sinn Fein insists it is not opposed to all bonfires. Mr McVeigh said "if someone wants to build a bonfire, they need to come up with a site which is safe, which is not beside people's homes, which is not on public facilities, which doesn't have offensive hate crime materials on that. We are not opposed to all bonfires, this is not an attack upon loyalists or the loyalist culture."

But prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson highlighted that a Facebook post by Mr McVeigh on July 12, 2015 read: "I just think bonfires wherever they are, are destructive. Let's just stop them all wherever they are."

But Mr McVeigh added: "I am not against all bonfires.

"I don't like bonfires - I think they damage the community, they damage the environment.

"But the motion is very explicit - to particular bonfires."

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