Belfast Telegraph

Elf and safety gone mad as Northern Ireland councils ban Santa from throwing sweets to children

By Rebecca Black

Ho ho... no. The fond old tradition of Santa throwing sweets into a crowd of children appears to have been scuppered by health and safety bureaucrats.

Parents in Enniskillen were left disappointed when, during the festive lights switch-on, sweets were simply handed out to those that could reach in the crowd.

In previous years Santa and his team of elves distributed goodies at the Diamond, sometimes through the air, to reach as many of the crowd as possible.

But this year's event, organised by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, did not include flying sweets - which did not go unnoticed by some parents who contacted The Impartial Reporter.

In response, the council explained the practice of throwing sweets into the crowd at the Enniskillen Christmas lights switch-on has not taken place over the last number of years because of health and safety.

The spokeswoman added that more than £300 worth of sweets were distributed to children, as is customary, by Santa and his helpers at this year's event, and that the barrier was also extended to enable Santa to meet as many children as possible.

The Belfast Telegraph can now reveal that other councils across Northern Ireland have also forbidden the throwing of sweets into crowds.

Of the councils that responded to our inquiries, only Derry and Strabane Council still allow it. However, a spokeswoman clarified that even there the matter had been considered, with only light sweets being thrown into the crowd.

"The council has had no issues with this practice regarding health and safety," she added.

But while Belfast City Council said it does not have a formal policy on throwing sweets, the practice is forbidden.

"However, we wouldn't permit this as it may cause unnecessary crowd movement at an event that is designed to attract young families with lots of toddlers and young children in the audience," a spokeswoman said.

"The Christmas lights switch-on in Belfast is a very popular and well-attended event attracting thousands so crowd management and movement is very important."

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council said it hosts a number of light switch-ons, and at the events it would "not be standard practice for Santa to throw sweets into the crowd".

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council said Santa's elves help to distribute sweets, but clarified none are thrown. Ards and North Down Council take a similar approach.

At Causeway Coast and Glens Council, a spokeswoman said its events team would not throw sweets to the crowd, and Lisburn and Castlereagh said its popular Christmas switch-on event in Lisburn city centre "was managed in line with all appropriate guidance including health and safety", adding "items are not thrown at this event".

Mid and East Antrim Council said all its events are subject to risk assessments where all such factors are taken into consideration. "No sweets are thrown in any of our events across the borough - including those during the festive season," a spokesman said.

And Mid-Ulster District Council said while it does not have a documented policy, its practice is that at any council-run event gifts such as selection boxes, and sweets are handed to members of the crowd as opposed to being thrown.

Former councillor and commentator Seamus Close described the reluctance to let Santa throw sweets as "crazy".

"That is absolutely absurd, really absurd," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"There's poor Santa who travels from the North Pole on the sleigh, travels through the clouds and here we have some of our councils complaining because he might throw some sweeties out to the children. Are we really cracking up?

"Even if you take it to the other end - those poor shepherds up on a mountain on their own, health and safety would probably tell them they shouldn't be there.

"And as for the baby Jesus in the crib, I mean, what conditions. No central heating there. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and put in a manger. The ox and the ass and all those other animals in there.

"Health and safety have little to do if they miss all that and come at poor Santa for throwing a few sweets around the place.

"We are gone mad as a society. These people are paid to go out and stop fun."

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