Bonfires the world over, in places like Spain, Norway and throughout Great Britain, are a genuine expression of identity, culture and historical events.
Unionist community bonfires are no different and should not be singled out from all others.
Yet it is important that each year bonfires are safe, controlled and supervised. This is normally done to great effect from within the communities.
But as bonfires get larger and the material burned on them changes, it is important that bonfire builders get professional help and support from local government in order to keep them safe.
The recent events at some bonfires cannot be viewed in isolation, but neither should they be a reason to stop community bonfires. What is needed is community training, resourcing and capacity building.
The Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions Commission identified a number of reasons why bonfires are, in the main, illegal due to environmental or waste management laws. Because they are illegal, it is difficult for councils to support these activities with much-needed training or resources.
Therefore, in order for local government to offer support, bonfires need to be given legal authority to take place.
This in effect means we need legislation to give that authority and in doing so safeguard community bonfires.
These findings were presented to the Executive Office over one year ago after more than three years’ work. They are yet to be published.
It is important that communities and bonfire builders are engaged at every level and nothing is simply imposed on them, as it will not work. However, safety must be at the heart of any community activity.
To that end, legislation, or regulations, must focus on delivering a respectful, safe and controlled community event each year.
Doug Beattie is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party