At last, progress on bonfires

Posted By: July 10, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Monday, July 10, 2017

The approach by the authorities towards the environmental, legal and above all public safety implications of massive and intimidating loyalist bonfires in residential areas has taken a number of twists in recent years.

Attempts to instead promote grant-aided, secure and properly organized beacons represented a positive start, and some reasonable progress resulted, but it became clear that certain groups were totally opposed to any form of supervision.

While a number of organizations at least accepted that burning huge numbers of tyres, in particular, was not only illegal but seriously detrimental in terms of polluting the atmosphere, other elements took delight in maintaining that they were effectively beyond the law of the land.

It will be acknowledged that bonfires are regarded by some but not all Unionists as part of Loyalist culture, and have on occasions caused problems in Nationalist districts as well, but the idea that they can be built without any form of control on public property close to many homes is simply not sustainable.

The events of last July, in an estate just off the Shankill Road in Belfast, vividly demonstrated the appalling risks which are involved when a roughly constructed pile of debris, which is the height equivalent of a four or five-storey building, is set ablaze close to a row of houses.

Burning embers were carried by the wind to the roofs of neighboring Hopewell Square, with three properties quickly gutted and families fortunately rescued by the emergency services at the last moment, in what was only the latest in a long series of similar episodes.

Some loyalists reacted in an aggressive way to the necessary scrutiny which followed in The Irish News and elsewhere over recent weeks, including through the ludicrous spectacle of handwritten signs crudely denouncing this newspaper and announcing that publicly owned car parks were closed until further notice to facilitate contentious displays.

When we revealed that considerable amounts of wooden pallets, including a quantity of what was verified to be stolen property, were held in storage by Belfast City Council before being due to be returned for the July 11 celebrations, deep concern went well beyond the Nationalist sector.

It was completely appropriate that a full civic investigation should follow and the High Court injunction which the council subsequently obtained at the end of last week preventing further combustible material being added to four specific sites must be strongly welcomed.

The indications are that the debate over bonfires is at last moving away from tribalLloyalist or Nationalist considerations and firmly towards an outcome which is in the best interest of our entire society.