Belfast Council bonfire scheme spending hits £46k as more groups sign up
Belfast City Council spent £46,000 funding dozens of Eleventh Night bonfires in July, it has been revealed.
Grants of up to £1,750 were awarded to a total of 35 community groups as part of the local authority's bonfire and cultural expression programme.
It marks an 8% increase in funding which was allocated to an additional 25% of eligible groups compared to the same period in 2018, when £42,570 was handed out to organisers of 28 pyres in a bid to discourage hazardous material being used.
Some groups received more than one award because they were responsible for numerous bonfires.
The issue is set to be discussed by City Hall's strategic policy and resources committee (SPRC) which is due to meet tomorrow.
DUP councillor and committee chairman Brian Kingston welcomed the growing engagement by loyalist communities.
"Clearly more groups are engaging with the scheme which offers an incentive to encourage safer bonfires at sensible locations," he said.
"It also combats the use of offensive material. But obviously, as more groups avail of the scheme, the cost will increase."
Recipients of the £45,870 pledged not to display paramilitary symbols or burn flags and emblems on bonfires and were allowed to use as much as £500 of the grant for cultural and community activities.
However, a portion of the funding is withheld until after the bonfires have been burned to ensure groups complied with the council's conditions for the scheme. "We have on occasions in the past withdrawn funding for groups which did not fulfil their obligations," Mr Kingston said.
The number of beacons provided by Belfast City Council - which are considered to be more environmentally-friendly than traditional bonfires - also increased by 45% in 2019.
A total of 16 beacons were provided for July bonfires compared to 11 in 2018.
The total cost has not yet been revealed. However, it is expected to be more than the £120,000 bill for installing and transporting 11 beacons last year. "This scheme ensures good management of bonfires and tries to make them more environmentally-friendly and it is good that more communities have engaged," Mr Kingston said.
"Again, that means the cost will inevitably go up."
Plans to set up an all-party working group to help manage bonfires on council land are also on the agenda for this week's committee meeting.
However, Mr Kingston said there will not be time to discuss a number of controversial bonfires in Belfast - including a controversial one built in the Avoniel Leisure Centre car park in east Belfast.
Belfast City Council gave up efforts to remove the pyre after details of a contractor due to remove it were leaked.
They pulled out after graffiti threats appeared nearby.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said last night that funding is awarded "in line with standard procedures for grant aid funding and is only available to constituted groups".
He said: "All funding is subject to financial verification checks. In regard to funding next year, members will review this year's approach and decisions in relation to an approach for 2020 will be taken after this, including the financial resource that will be available."
The spokesperson added: For the 2019 programme, the council received 35 applications - three of which requested no funding, only the provision of a beacon to replace a bonfire. The total amount requested was £45,870 of which £28,490.35 has been paid out to date."
They also confirmed that no award was made to the bonfire sited at Avoniel Leisure Centre.