UUP leader said there should be a police investigation into the Ballysillan bonfire
The Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has suggested there should be “mandatory regulations” around bonfires, after a 17-year-old was badly injured at a north Belfast fire.
Mr Beattie told the BBC’s Nolan Show he thought bonfires need to be “controlled” in order to keep communities safe and said the recommendations of the Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions (Fict) commission should be enacted.
Mr Beattie also said there should be a police investigation into the specific incident and said those behind building and supervising the bonfire need to “take responsibility”.
His comments came after a teenager suffered serious burns at a bonfire in north Belfast.
The incident happened in Silverstream Crescent in the Ballysillan area.
Eleventh Night bonfires took place across Northern Ireland at the weekend, preceding the July 12 parades, the main date in the Protestant loyal order marching season.
Mr Beattie described social media footage of the teenager in flames as “appalling” and “sickening” and said people have to ask themselves if the current culture around bonfires in Northern Ireland is “worth it”.
“There were a number of near misses over the Eleventh Night bonfire period,” said Doug Beattie.
“Bonfires are a fair expression of identity and culture, they happen around the world. But these bonfires need to be safe.
“They need to be controlled, they need to be well supervised bonfires and they need to have expert professional engagement to deal with the construction, lighting and safe distances and we need to put that in place to make sure that we keep our communities safe.
“That bonfire was not controlled properly and those responsible for it need to take responsibility for it.
“There has to be a police investigation into this. There has to be a health and safety executive investigation into this.”
The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he is against the idea of a Parades Commission-style body set up to arbitrate on controversial bonfires, saying that voluntary regulation was the best way forward.
“I would like to work with bonfire organisers and see if we can come up with even a voluntary code at this stage and encourage people to take responsibility rather than give people crutches,” Sir Jeffrey said.
Mr Beattie said recommendations for bonfires are sitting at the desk of the Executive Office and urged ministers to bring them forward.
The Fict commission was originally set up in 2016 in a bid to find consensus on a number of contentious issues, but devolution collapsed before it could deliver its report.
Its findings were finally submitted to the First and deputy First Ministers last July, but have not been made public.
“My party has asked for the Fict commission paper to be brought forward. It (the Executive Office) is a joint office of Sinn Fein and the DUP who have not brought forward this paper, which has clear recommendations in it in regards to bonfires,” added Mr Beattie.
“There must be community engagement, because these are community bonfires. If you alienate the community then they ignore anything we bring forward.
“But the reality of this is quite simple: some of these bonfires are not safe, and if they are not safe there needs to be mandatory regulations to stop them putting people’s lives in danger.
“We need to come up with a set of legislations that work for the community and work for the safety of everybody.”