Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council urged to act on bonfires report, but DUP warns over licensing proposals

By Suzanne Breen

Nationalist politicians have called on Belfast City Council to speedily implement the recommendations of a bonfire report, and the DUP has pledged to "respond positively" to all constructive proposals.

Former Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley was appointed to investigate the council's controversial storage of bonfire material last summer.

His report, which has been given to the group leaders of the six largest parties in City Hall, was discussed at a committee meeting yesterday. It is expected to be published after a full council meeting next month. The names and positions of staff, which could identify them, will be redacted.

Sinn Fein group leader Deirdre Hargey said: "Sinn Fein recognises that not all the recommendations will be implemented before this summer, but the process for change starts from now.

"We need to look at implementation of the recommendations particularly around governance, accountability and adherence to the law. The council needs to deal with excesses around bonfires which pose risk or harm to people, property or the environment. Proper risk assessments need to be carried out on sites addressing these excesses."

Ms Hargey said the burning of flags, election posters and effigies could not continue.

DUP councillor George Dorrian said bonfires were an integral part of unionist culture but "we recognise there are concerns over a very small number of fires and we don't condone any action which puts life or property at risk".

Any new strategy must be based on "self-regulation and community engagement", and licensing bonfires would not work, he added.

"We will not support anything which will criminalise those who are carrying on the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers. Those who have been most vocal in their criticism are more out to demonise unionists than solve problems," he claimed.

"But when the findings and recommendations from the Frawley report come forward we will respond on the basis of our engagement with communities and bonfire builders and in a way which will add positively to the debate."

Alliance group leader Michael Long described it as "a very comprehensive report" on which the council could move forward. He believed previous failings would now be addressed with "clearer structures and better communication" put in place.

Mr Long was hopeful that "unionist parties are committed to celebrating their culture while acting respectfully towards others".

SDLP group leader Tim Attwood said: "Lessons need to be learnt following events at some bonfires in 2017. This report provides a helpful road map to move this forward and it needs to be acted upon.

"We must recognise that there are a number of bonfires which continue to put at risk people's health, homes and property. Post-Grenfell, this is unacceptable."

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