Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Early dialogue could solve bonfire disputes

'It is simple common sense that bonfires should not contain toxic material' (stock photo)
'It is simple common sense that bonfires should not contain toxic material' (stock photo)

Editor's Viewpoint

Thousands of Orangemen will parade to the field at 18 locations in Northern Ireland today in what is one of the largest and most colourful cultural and religious expressions held annually.

By and large, the Twelfth is an occasion which attracts large crowds at each of the venues and in the last couple of years each parade has passed off without any problem.

The days when protests over parades at Drumcree and Ardoyne were inevitably accompanied by violence thankfully appear to be over. Long-running behind-the-scenes talks enabled compromises to be reached which were acceptable to all but the most trenchant groups.

The new area of dispute is over the siting, size and content of a few bonfires - a couple in Belfast and one in Portadown this year.

It is right that toxic materials like tyres should be banned from bonfires and common sense enabled those to be removed from the contentious Belfast bonfires.

However, the siting of a bonfire in the car park at Avoneil leisure centre continued to be a challenge to authorities. Belfast City Council met in four emergency sessions in recent days and determined that the bonfire material should be removed.

However, the apparent identification of contractors who would have been used to remove the bonfire and the latent threat of violence according to police meant that the bonfire remained to be lit last night.

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A different siting problem emerged in Portadown where a massive bonfire was deemed a potential threat to nearby residential property, which had to be boarded up to avoid damage and residents were advised to move out until after the fire was over.

The common theme around these contentious bonfires was that the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue between civic authorities and the bonfire builders was left too late and any proposed action was then seen as a challenge to the local community.

It is simple common sense that bonfires should not contain toxic material and should not be built on the site of civil amenities or put people's homes at risk. It is disappointing that only 35 of the 80-100 bonfires have signed up to the official council scheme which lays out sensible rules.

History shows that dialogue at an early stage and a willingness on all sides to compromise is the best way to make progress.

Belfast Telegraph

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