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Unionists 'won't shy away' from action on bonfires despite criticism from Sinn Fein

By Donna Deeney

A row has broken out over bonfires in the North West following a unionist walk-out over a council's plan to tackle the burning issue.

A proposed bonfire policy, backed by Derry City and Strabane Council's health and community committee, aims to minimise the impact of bonfires on the local authority's land.

But disagreements over whether the action plan and policy document were final or merely drafts sparked heated exchanges amongst political parties on a working group earlier this year.

Although the DUP and UUP quit the group, both parties say they are fully committed to addressing problems surrounding bonfires.

But Sinn Fein's Kevin Campbell questioned their commitment, claiming the DUP's presence was "thin on the ground" at the monthly meetings.

He said: "This working group was set up seven months ago - and while UUP councillor Derek Hussey didn't miss one meeting, the DUP presence was thin on the ground, so much so, that we had to ask a council staff member to take the proposed action plan and policy document to them.

"We asked the party to get back if there was anything in it they were unhappy about, but we heard nothing until this week at the last meeting when, suddenly, not only were they unhappy, the UUP councillor was too.

"The action plan stated that in an area where the residents were happy to have a bonfire, then a position for the bonfire that met with health and safety standards would be found, and that no bonfire would have flags or emblems placed on it.

"Where the community did not want a bonfire, then the duty of care council has to residents would be considered and an alternative negotiated with the bonfire organisers would hopefully be arranged.

"I was surprised that the unionist councillors, after months of negotiation, walked out, but all that work wasn't going to go up in smoke so it was passed by the majority and will now come before the full council meeting for ratification."

But Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton hit back, saying the party was fully committed to finding a solution. He said the party will make its presence felt at the full council meeting.

"After our party and other unionist members pulled out of the bonfire committee, we want to make it clear that the DUP are not shying away from issues surrounding bonfires," he stated.

"We won't allow our communities to be rail-roaded into a policy without their input.

"Bonfires have a historical significance dating back to the 1600s when King William's troops lit fires as they made their way to battle.

"Because of 40 years of terrorism, bonfires have also become a way of venting anger and this included burning flags and political posters.

"Obviously this takes away from the historical significance and our communities would like to see this culture restored to what it really means.

"At the full council meeting what we want is to ensure that communities be part of the consultation and that the document remains a draft until this is carried out."

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