Belfast Telegraph

Mark H Durkan: I'd prefer all bonfires were banned

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said the cost of bonfires, both to public health and in terms of finance can "no longer be tolerated" and he would prefer they were all banned.

The SDLP minister said it was likely that many bonfires broke the law in some way.

The Foyle MLA admitted he would prefer a total ban, but conceded there were "sensitivities" around the issue.

He has outlined three preferences for dealing with all bonfires.

They include licensing of bonfires, more rigorous enforcement of current legislation and improving on current practice.

Speaking on the BBC's Nolan Show, the politician referenced Loyalist bonfires that have sparked controversy with effigies burnt, tyres placed on them and those that were so big residents' homes had to be protected from the heat.

Minister Durkan said: "My preference - and I know many would share this view - would be that all bonfires are banned.

"While I accept that we need to be sensitive to different cultural needs, in my view we can no longer tolerate the cost that many bonfires inflict - both financial cost and to people's health and environment."

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Minister Durkan said the PSNI also needed to be more involved in tackling problems associated with bonfires.

He added: "This is at an early stage and I hope to discuss my proposals with district councils and the Environment Committee soon.

“I am fully aware bonfires are an emotive issue and their management needs to be approached in a sensitive manner.

"The success of any option will rely heavily on adopting a holistic approach with buy-in and participation from all those involved.

“Most importantly though, I recognise that if the issues around bonfires are to be successfully tackled wide support across the  political and community spectrum.

"I am prepared to take leadership on this and open up the debate"

The minister said dialogue and enforcement would be key to success in the matter and that he would "hope" there could be an improvement for next year.

"But I can't guarantee anything," he said.

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