New licence for bonfires will inflame issue, says academic
Introducing licences for all bonfires in Northern Ireland would make the problem worse, the Environment Minister has been warned.
Mark H Durkan said yesterday that he was considering the option of licensing plans for bonfires.
He said that he would prefer a total ban, but had to be sensitive to cultural needs.
However, Dr Jonny Byrne from Ulster University warned that the issue of bonfires could not be dealt with in isolation.
"You can't police this. It is very difficult to police the burning of flags and nationalist emblems. All you will do is create more illegitimate fires and create a worse situation," said Dr Byrne, who has advised Belfast City Council on its bonfire management programme.
He added: "The challenge must come from communities themselves. You need to work with communities to develop ways of celebrating culture in a more culturally sensitive way.
"You can't look at bonfires in isolation. You need to look at wider policies around culture, identity and commemoration."
Mr Durkan told the Assembly that it was likely that many of the major bonfires broke the law in some way.
He also highlighted the problem of bonfires being lit close to people's homes and the sectarian burning of flags and symbols.
Speaking on the BBC's Nolan Show, he said while his own preference would be that all bonfires should be banned, he accepted that in some areas and in some communities across Northern Ireland there was a desire to have them.
"I think we do need to be politically sensitive to these different cultural needs, but I am convinced that we can no longer tolerate the cost, both financial and to people's health and the environment that many, if not all, bonfires inflict," he added.
While an important expression of identity to some, bonfires are an extremely controversial issue.
In July the Fire Service had to advise residents to leave their properties due to safety concerns over massive bonfires.
Residents in Chobham Street in east Belfast were forced to evacuate their homes ahead of the bonfire being lit. Six fire appliances and 35 firefighters attended the bonfire and a number of houses were hosed down to protect them from heat damage.