Belfast Telegraph

An agreed policy on bonfires is essential

Editor's Viewpoint

Every year a depressingly similar narrative about bonfires emerges. It tells of huge stockpiles of materials being gathered for pyres which are built near private or commercial property, causing potential danger to residents.

Last year a house off Belfast's Shankill Road was destroyed and several others damaged by a blaze started by sparks from a nearby bonfire. In other areas, fire officers will be on standby tonight to damp down properties adjacent to bonfires to prevent them igniting.

Today we report on an east Belfast clergyman who voiced his concerns about a huge bonfire being built near his place of worship, but who got short shrift from those responsible for building it.

To critics of bonfires, this is an example of what is wrong with the practice. And it has to be conceded that endangering homes, places or worship or commercial premises is reckless behaviour which should not be countenanced.

Yet it is equally true that contentious bonfires - like contentious parades - are small in number but are rarely seen in that context. Instead, they are seized upon as reasons to denigrate what many regard as their culture.

Given the adverse publicity directed towards them it is easy to understand why those who feel their beliefs and culture are being attacked become defensive and resistant to dialogue. In many respects it is a rerun of the debate over parades.

Bonfires are not unique to here, and indeed a Commonwealth circle of beacons were used to herald the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

But whatever some people may feel about bonfires as a means of cultural expression, it is a legitimate practice provided that those building them exercise common sense and work with bodies like local councils, police and Fire Service to ensure they are properly sited and do not contain noxious or toxic materials.

Belfast City Council - which found itself under attack for taking out injunctions against four contentious bonfires on its land - has drawn up a scheme to reward responsible bonfire builders by the small scale funding of family fun activities. There is no reason why such a blueprint should not be followed in all cases, instead of building bonfires which cause damage and incur costs to the ratepayer.

The hope must be that this Eleventh Night passes off without incident, and that the coming year is used to reach an agreed policy on bonfires.

Belfast Telegraph

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