A massive bonfire in Co Antrim has been hailed as “a feat of engineering” by a DUP councillor responding to safety concerns expressed by Sinn Fein.
The pyre in the Craigyhill area of Larne attracted international media attention last year when the 286 pallet high structure was named the largest ever built in Northern Ireland.
After smashing the previous record of 233 pallets, organisers now seek to break the world record and plan to keep building until the bonfire reaches more than 198ft tall.
Councillor James McKeown says he has been approached by residents who are already concerned about the size.
“It is quite close to privately owned homes, but it is only about 50 metres away from a children’s play park,” he said.
“There’s fear among quite a few residents, it’s a major health and safety issue.”
The Sinn Fein representative said he believes many locals are worried about, but are too afraid to speak out.
“This is a predominantly Protestant area and is usually quite peaceful, unless they fall out with themselves as they sometimes do,” Mr McKeown said.
“A lot of Catholics were forced out of this area a lot of years ago, those who remain know this is just something they have to live with.
“But I know Protestants in the area who have concerns but they can’t say anything.”
The local representative expressed concern about an “alarming trend” to make the bonfire bigger and bigger every year.
“I think there really needs to be some sort of consultation about the health and safety aspect,” he said.
“It’s not just dangerous once it’s lit, this is an unstable structure.”
However, DUP councillor Angela Smyth insists the council has been working well with bonfire builders to ensure Eleventh Night celebrations are safe.
“It’s been difficult to forge the relationships but everyone is now working in sync,” she said.
“The number of complaints has actually dropped dramatically.
“We used to get phone calls from people concerned about the size, proximity to homes and the mess – but that has diminished.
“In fact, I have not received any complaints for a few years now.”
Councillor Smyth said partner agencies including the PSNI and Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service are also involved in efforts to minimise risk.
“Mr McKeown should take his concerns to council officers who will be happy to look at them,” she said.
“But nothing has been brought to my attention”
Meanwhile DUP councillor Greg McKeen called on Sinn Fein to consider the bigger picture and acknowledge the progress that has been made.
“If you look back at the situation eight, nine, 10-years-ago – there was no relationship between the community and the council,” he recalled.
“There was a large number of tyres and things we don’t want to see on bonfires.
“That is not the case today – this is made entirely from pallets.”
Mr McKeen, who sat on the council’s cultural celebrations working group, acknowledged the trend to build bigger as a legitimate concern.
But he said it must be seen in perspective.
“It highlights some of the skills, capabilities and determination of the guys involved,” the elected representative said.
“Craigyhill is a feat of engineering – the guys all have harnesses and it’s fenced off.
“A few years ago it would have been a free for all.”
“Despite all the remaining tensions and issues – the fact is we are making progress.
“That is seen across the borough where only a handful of bonfires have tyres.”
Mr McKeen urged critics to exercise caution when voicing concerns which risk undermining efforts to educate bonfire builders about the importance of health and safety.
“We have worked hard to build partnerships and peace on the ground,” he said.
“But all Sinn Fein want to do is raise tensions.”
The PSNI has been asked for a response.