Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Pragmatic approach to bonfires is needed

Editor's Viewpoint

It will come as an unpleasant surprise to some people that more than £100,000 of taxpayers' money has been spent during the past five years in protecting people's homes from bonfires.

Perhaps it is only in Northern Ireland that bonfires take up so much time and energy, and create so much controversy.

However, some people regard bonfires as historically significant, and an important part of their identity.

For better or worse, bonfires are a significant part of the culture of many localities, and there are different ways to celebrate this.

It should be stressed that many of these bonfires are well-managed, and pass off without incident.

Some bonfires are even eco-friendly.

However, there are still some highly-contentious bonfires in and around Belfast.

These involve the regrettable and offensive issue of burning election posters and political and other effigies.

There is also the baffling insistence on building fires close to people's homes and business buildings nearby.

This year there was damage to an apartment block in south Belfast. And previously a woman lost her house in the Shankill area.

People need protection for their houses, but it is an absolute scandal that more than £100,000 of taxpayers' money has had to be used in this way, during the past five years.

Belfast City Council's policy on dealing with bonfires lies in ruins.

In the run-up to the Twelfth there was uncertainty as to what would happen to the material already gathered.

Then, when the council tried to remove bonfire material against the wishes of local bullies and thugs, the contractors employed to do the clearing work were intimidated off.

At present it seems no one knows the best way forward. There are just over 10 months left until the next bonfire saga, and this time must be used to develop a more pragmatic and sensible approach to the whole issue.

The council should engage with community representatives at all levels, including politicians who must lend their weight to finding a solution.

The sum of £100,000 to protect houses could be better spent elsewhere.

The last thing everybody wants is a settlement rather than seeing another council initiative going up in smoke.

The bonfire controversy must be ended, for everyone's sake.

Belfast Telegraph

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