Belfast Telegraph

Flag and tyre burning sees six Belfast groups lose bonfire funds

By Rebecca Black

Six community groups in Belfast have lost out on funding after items including flags and tyres were burnt on bonfires.

The six - out of a total of 46 groups awarded money by Belfast City Council towards holding bonfires in 2014 - were found to have broken funding conditions.

The council distributed £141,000 as part of its bonfire management programme in 2014.

The fund is designed to tackle problems around bonfires such as the burning of toxic materials or flags and symbols, with groups able to apply for grants of up to £2,000.

Some 70% of this money is paid to the community groups, while 30% is withheld on condition the bonfire events abide by a set of conditions laid down by council.

These conditions include not burning tyres on bonfires, not to display "paramilitary trappings and paramilitary flags on or in the vicinity of the bonfire site" and not to burn "any flag, emblem, posters, effigies or any other symbols".

The Good Relations Partnership decided that six groups should have the 30% of the funds withheld for failing to comply with conditions.

The groups involved are the Graymount Community Group, Lower Oldpark Community Association, Pitt Park, Suffolk Community Forum, The Hub (on behalf of York Park Bonfire Committee) and Walkway Community Association.

However, DUP councillor Gavin Robinson urged the council at its monthly meeting last night to reconsider the case for some of the groups, where he said volunteers tried to abide by the council conditions, but could not safely remove the items.

He asked that further information be sought on the circumstances of several cases, while conceding that some groups had not attempted to abide by conditions, insisting that others had.

"I think there is a huge unfairness. It is clear to me there are some groups who did their best to adhere to the conditions," he told the council, adding that some of the incidents took place "late in the day".

"If the PSNI are not prepared to go in and remove flags, how can we expect volunteers to.

"We are failing those who are trying to do right."

But SDLP councillor Tim Attwood opposed further consideration, and said matters had been considered carefully.

Alliance councillor Maire Hendron said she felt the council's bonfire management programme had been a success, and commended all the community groups that had abided by the conditions.

However, she said the council must be seen to act on those who had broken the rules. The council voted by 28 vote to 21 to reject Mr Robinson's proposal.

Sinn Fein councillor Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín welcomed the penalties imposed on the bonfire organisers.

"Six out of eight groups were deemed to have breached the rules governing the initiative and council voted to penalise the groups to the tune of 30% of their funding," he said.

"Sinn Féin has challenged the misuse of this programme for a number of years.

"The burning of any country's flag or the poster of any election candidate cannot be deemed to be any kind of positive expression of culture.

"All parties have agreed to review the bonfire programme for next year and ongoing breaches set a negative context for such a review."

Story so far

Election posters belonging to a range of political parties from Sinn Fein to Alliance were burned on Eleventh night bonfires throughout Belfast this year, despite politicians from across the divide urging them to be removed from the pyres.

Among the other items which caused upset when they appeared on bonfires were Irish tricolours and Celtic football jersies.

Meanwhile, bonfire organisers are urged to ensure that tyres or other toxic items are not burned on the beacons for environmental reasons.

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