Belfast Telegraph

Plan for bonfire licences in Northern Ireland preferred to total ban by Environment Minister Durkan

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said he would "prefer to license" bonfires across Northern Ireland as he considers options for their control and management.

The BBC's Stephen Nolan radio show reported that the minister is pushing ahead with plans to implement controls on bonfires and has written to councils to seek their views.

He has previously said he would prefer all bonfires to be banned, but has now proposed a licensing system.

Mr Durkan said: “I have written to council chief executives about the current controls and management of bonfires. Bonfires have environmental, social and economic consequences. I wish to make progress on this issue.

"The current legislative position relating to bonfires is extremely complex and involves a number of public bodies. Whilst council led multi-agency approaches are reducing the number of bonfires and helping to improve their management, progress is relatively slow and there are still bonfires which are uncontrolled.

"So I want to initiate a debate as to how we take this matter forward."

The SDLP minister has proposed three options. They include:

  •  To continue and develop current best practice.
  •  To more rigorously enforce all relevant legislation with respect to bonfires.
  • To license bonfires.

"My preferred option is to license bonfires," the minister said.

Read more: New licence for bonfires will inflame issue, says academic

He said if the option was put into law, a licence would only by issued if the landowners’ permission was given, the location was suitable and the pyre of a suitable size and structure with "allowable material".

He also said the licence would be subject to health and safety measures being in place and there being no disorderly behaviour, breach of peace or intention to stir up hatred or arouse fear.

The minister continued: "I have outlined to councils on how bonfires might be controlled and managed under the introduction of a licensing scheme.

"The proposal is that those wishing to hold a bonfire would need to apply to their local district council for a temporary licence.

"This is similar to the system in England and Wales whereby there is a Regulatory Position Statement which allows bonfires as long as these meet strict criteria to minimise their impact on the environment and human health.

"It is my view that new legislation will probably be required and proposals could only be progressed with Executive agreement and cross-party endorsement and in turn could only be implemented through an agreed multi-Agency approach and with community support.”

Speaking on the Nolan show the SDLP's Claire Hanna said this was an example of the minster "showing leadership" in a bid to tackle those bonfires which include racist or sectarian material.

Loyalist community worker Phil Hamilton said the proposal would be "unworkable", while east Belfast community worker Jim Wilson said communities would not take well to being dictated to.

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