Bonfire move turns up heat on debate

Johnny Mercer, Glenn Robinson and Aaron Downey keeping an eye on the bonfire construction at Pollock Drive. INLM2415-406
Johnny Mercer, Glenn Robinson and Aaron Downey keeping an eye on the bonfire construction at Pollock Drive. INLM2415-406
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The loyalist community must be consulted on any plans to licence bonfires. a local PUP spokesman has said.

Party spokesman Aaron Dowey said: “The idea of the licensing of bonfires in Northern Ireland is one that seems to be talked about by those who have no involvement with them and who don’t seem to really understand the place it has within our community.”

It is also important that we commend the actions taken by community activists in the Loyalist areas of Lurgan in bringing some sanity to their approach to managing bonfires.

Cllr Joe Nelson

He was reacting to a proposal from Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to introduce a licensing scheme for bonfires. The plan was welcomed by the minister’s SDLP colleague Councillor Joe Nelson who said: “I commend the Environment Minister for putting his head above the parapet and deciding that something must be done.

“From Belfast to Strabane the annual blight of both Loyalist and Republican bonfires cause great anxiety for the public and in local residents in particular who every year are forced to board up their windows and in some cases evacuate their homes.

“Notwithstanding the sectarian element of this celebration, the environmental damage caused and the strain put on the emergency services, there is the added fact that this has all to be cleaned up and the extensive grass area reinstated at ratepayers expense. I will be asking Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council to provide a breakdown of the costs associated with cleaning up bonfires in the borough. It is also important that we commend the actions taken by community activists in the Loyalist areas of Lurgan in bringing some sanity to their approach to managing bonfires.

“Licencing offers the opportunity to regulate what has up to now been a free-for-all, a vacuum that has allowed for burning tyres, flags and political posters in a practice that is both unsafe and insulting to many people.”

Local PUP spokesman Aaron Dowey said: “The loyalist community in Lurgan and across the Province are already very pro-active in how we approach bonfires and engaging with the local community to ensure the events of July enjoy full support and the day can be enjoyed by all.

“This year Mid-Ulster ACT met with the local community group and the young people who organise the bonfire prior to the 12th festivities to see how best they could support those involved and to see if there was anything could be done to help keep the bonfire in the area moving forward as something which can be enjoyed by all. Mid-Ulster ACT, in association with the Lurgan PUP branch, also conducted a survey of residents who live in the vicinity of the bonfire in the Mourneview and Grey estate and we were pleased at how well it is supported by those living in the area.

“There were some helpful suggestions and these have been taken on board for future events. Mid-Ulster ACT and the Lurgan PUP branch, by continuing in dialogue with the Mourneview and Gray estate Community group and the young people who are involved with the bonfire, can help ensure that the bonfire continues to be family-friendly, peaceful and an event we can all be proud to support.

“We would not instantly dismiss any idea but the licensing of bonfires is something that would need to be consulted upon within the Loyalist and wider Unionist community and the benefits and drawbacks properly investigated before any concrete proposals can be put forward. The unionist community will naturally be suspicious of some of the motivations for those driving this idea.

“Lurgan PUP fully endorse engaging with those organising bonfires, supporting them to make the evening an event for the whole community and helping to educate those within Unionism and beyond on its significance. We think this is already being done very successfully at a local level and would have concerns that those proposing otherwise have motivations and an agenda which does not include promoting and supporting our cultural and historical commemorations.”