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Bonfires no excuse for breaking the law

Editor's Viewpoint

No one ever suggested that Eleventh Night bonfires should be banned. They are seen as an expression of culture for one part of the community of Northern Ireland, but some of those who build pyres containing illegal materials and burn sectarian effigies do little to suggest that they have any respect for their own culture, never mind their fellow citizens.

It has been illegal for many years now to burn tyres on bonfires, yet this year it seems that some groups are actually importing container loads of tyres and are determined to break the law.

Police are watching ports to intercept shipments, yet it is evident from the photographs published in this newspaper today that large quantities of tyres are being brought to bonfire sites.

And while there may be many fine words spoken in condemnation of the practice of putting tyres on bonfires, it seems that little is done to actually stop the law being broken. As one public representative pointed out, a person can be fined £80 for dropping a cigarette butt, but those who set fire to tyres sending toxic fumes spiralling, endangering people's health, escape any punishment.

In fact, it seems this flouting of the law is designed to gain reward rather than punishment. Some sources suggest that many of the sites containing tyres are under the control of UVF figures who are laying down a marker. In essence, they are saying they will continue to break the law unless they are given funding from the local authority or other statutory bodies to stop burning tyres.

That is the creation of an Alice in Wonderland society which turns all social rules on their head and rewards the law breakers at the expense of the law-abiding. After all, this is ratepayers' and taxpayers' money which is being paid out to bonfire organisers.

The very least expected in return is that guidelines drawn up years ago are adhered to and that this cultural expression is deemed worthy of the description and not used by some as a way of extorting the hard-earned money of decent people of all shades of opinion out of the public purse.

It is time the authorities took a less softly, softly approach to law breakers. It is too late, yet again, to do anything this year, but there should be proper discussions between statutory bodies and bonfire builders to ensure that they behave responsibly.

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