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Belfast City Council needs to be sensitive on graves

Editor's Viewpoint

No one can argue with the right of Belfast City Council to ensure that its graveyards are safe for the public to visit. It is proper that gravestones and other memorials are assessed to establish their stability or otherwise.

But it appears that the council has approached this issue in an unduly bureaucratic manner, which has caused distress to relatives.

Some 158 grave headstones across the city have been deemed unsafe and the problem is most acute in Roselawn Cemetery, where 145 graves have been earmarked for repair.

It should be obvious to the most bureaucratic mind that a person's final resting place is a site of great reverence for those left behind.

It is somewhere they can visit regularly, to say a prayer or merely sit and contemplate happier times.

To find out that a relative's grave has been cordoned off is bound to be distressing.

Of course, the council is acting with the best intentions as it is responsible for the safety of visitors to the graveyards under its control, but it should have made that clear to those whose family graves have been cordoned off, rather than let them find out when they visited the cemetery.

While the council may be able to argue validly that its actions are well intentioned and for the good of the public it has a more difficult time defending its decision to charge - albeit indirectly - relatives a £16 fee to allow contractors to access the grave site to carry out repairs to headstones and memorials.

Describing it as a one-off fee for a permit to carry out repair work doesn't make much sense. It is the council which is insisting that the repair work is carried out.

To then charge contractors a fee to enable them to do the work - a fee they pass on to relatives - is insensitive and seemingly mercenary.

It must be remembered that the council already gains handsome reward for the sale of graves to the bereaved and for the cost of cremations at Roselawn. These charges are accepted as the cost of dying, but to continue to seek money from beyond the grave is surely taking things a bit far.

After all, the cost of repairs to the headstones or memorials will be costly enough without a nonsensical surcharge on top. The repair work has to be done, so why does it require a permit?

The council would be well advised to consider the feelings of the bereaved relatives as this issue moves forward.

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