No hiding from the burning issues

Unionists’ report on bonfires omits paramilitaries

 

Brendan Hughes. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, March 17, 2018

UNIONIST parties have been warned they “cannot hide from the difficult issues” after launching a joint report on bonfire issues – that failed to mention paramilitaries.

The DUP, UUP, and PUP yesterday unveiled their consultation paper in response to tensions over loyalist bonfires in Belfast.

Councilors said they engaged with more than 60 groups for the report, which aims to develop a “common understanding and approach” to the annual pyres.

But their 11-page report makes no reference to concerns about loyalist paramilitary involvement.

The eleventh Night last year was another exceptionally busy operation for firefighters, with one towering pyre causing heat damage to apartments near a city center hotel.

There have also been continuing concerns over offensive displays such as burning flags, effigies, and election posters.

Last month The Irish News revealed a leaked academic report in which public bodies spoke candidly about contentious pyres being controlled by loyalist paramilitaries. The study said paramilitaries use bonfires to “extend their legitimacy and control community activities.”

Launching their own report yesterday, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said paramilitaries are not controlling most bonfire nights in Belfast.

He said: “How would you ever identify that the person who’s doing this has been told by the UDA/UVF to do it?”

The councilor added: “We found that they were not involved in them in a controlling way in the majority of them.”

SDLP councilor Tim Attwood welcomed the report and acknowledged that “many unionist communities are on a journey in relation to bonfires.”

“However, we all have to recognize that there are a number of bonfires which continue to put at risk people’s health, homes, and property. Post-Grenfell, this is unacceptable,” he said.

The party’s council group leader said the unionist parties’ report should “represent the beginning of a conversation on the future of bonfires.”

“But we cannot hide from the difficult issues if we’re to reach an acceptable accommodation,” he added.

 

FULL REPORT

No mention of loyalist paramilitaries in Unionist bonfire report

Brendan Hughes. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, Marc 17, 2018

A BONFIRE report launched by Unionist parties in Belfast makes no mention of paramilitaries.

The DUP, UUP, and PUP unveiled their joint report yesterday in response to tensions over some loyalist bonfires in the city last year.

The paper, entitled ‘Towards a Respectful Future: A report on bonfires and related activities,’ aims to develop a “common understanding and approach” to the annual pyres.

Bonfires in the city annually cause controversy over safety fears, environmental concerns and offensive displays such as burning flags, effigies, and election posters.

There have also been concerns over loyalist paramilitary involvement in some Eleventh Night pyres.

Last month The Irish News revealed a leaked 82-page academic report in which public bodies spoke candidly about contentious pyres being controlled by Loyalist paramilitaries.

By contrast, the Unionist parties’ 11-page report makes no reference to any alleged paramilitary involvement.

Its only use of the word ‘paramilitary’ is in a case study on page 10 referring to paramilitary murals being re-imaged.

Launching the paper at Belfast City Hall, DUP councilor Lee Reynolds said they had engaged with more than 60 groups for the study.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, right, said paramilitaries are not controlling most bonfire nights in Belfast.

“When does a resident become a UVF man?” he asked.

“They are out there at a bonfire because their kids are growing up. Are they acting as a resident or a UVF man?

“How would you ever identify that the person who’s doing this has been told by the UDA/UVF to do it?

“We found that they were not involved in them in a controlling way in the majority of them.”

The report follows the DUP and PUP last July announcing a “cultural convention” on issues including Belfast bonfires.

It came as unionist parties remained silent about a landmark court injunction the council secured against several pyres, which Sinn Féin insisted was backed by all parties.

The Unionist parties’ joint statement at the time did not mention the injunction, but instead accused Sinn Féin of a “cultural war.”

Mr. Hutchinson yesterday said, “legal advice” meant they were unable to discuss the injunction. He also declined to say if unionists would support a similar move in future, saying the matter would be addressed in the coming weeks.

The report said some people believed the ethos of encouraging youngsters to collect materials for burning was being lost as bigger bonfires built using heavy machinery dominated the landscape.

The councilors are planning a

‘Belfast convention,’ most likely after this summer’s bonfire season, to plot a way forward.

The consultation report also said:

*Most bonfires were well organized and non-contentious.

*A small number have raised concerns over safety, anti-social behavior, and sectarian or racist graffiti.

*Many believed there was a “concerted campaign against traditional unionist celebrations” which has created a sense of “alienation.”

* Fly-tipping remained a problem and the playing of dance music was not attractive to many.

* Serious concerns were expressed about under-age drinking and many would find alcohol-free events more attractive, but many also believed alcohol was acceptable among adults.

The paper called for “effective self-regulation” as the “best way to build community support and confidence.”