Sinn Fein accused of wanting council to be ‘bonfire police’ after motion passed

A loyalist bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in Belfast.
A loyalist bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway in Belfast.

Council staff or private contractors are to be permitted to remove bonfire materials from sites in Belfast.

The measure was approved during a special meeting of the City Council on Wednesday evening.

Sinn Fein said a small number of fires were built dangerously close to homes or businesses and the poisonous gases produced were affecting the health of those who lived nearby.

The DUP said the republican party’s motion, which was carried by 31 votes to 21, was attempting to transform the local authority into “bonfire police”.

Sinn Fein’s council leader Jim McVeigh said: “This is about standing up to hate, it is about standing up to sectarianism, it is about standing against racism, against homophobia, against transphobia.”

He said the party was not opposed to loyalist bonfires per se.

“This is not part of some cultural war against loyalism or loyalist culture.”

He said there was paranoia about the intentions of republicans.

The DUP’s Lee Reynolds insisted: “Some people are trying to turn us into the Belfast bonfire police and it is not going to work, it is as simple as that.”

Anti-internment blazes are due to be lit in nationalist parts of the city in the coming weeks.

Ruth Patterson, an independent unionist, said the purpose of the motion was to set a precedent for next July and to target unionist culture.

“They want to make this council chamber the front line of a war on the unionist community.”

On the Eleventh Night windows in a high-rise building in Belfast city centre shattered and other scorch damage was sustained from a nearby bonfire.

Firefighters spent the night dousing the tower on Wellwood Street with water in an effort to prevent it catching fire.

A son of the late Martin McGuinness called for an end to “displays of hate” after a coffin bearing a picture of his father was placed on one fire in Belfast.

Before the festivities the City Council attained a court order banning loyalists from stacking up more wood for the fires.

That order appeared to have been broken.

Alliance Party councillor Michael Long said there would be no impact on the majority of bonfires where people acted responsibly.

The PUP’s Dr John Kyle said progress had been made, with fewer bonfires and less anti-social behaviour.

He said it seemed to many that efforts were being made to “expunge” unionist culture from Northern Ireland.

“Do we want to create a culture where everyone is cherished, respected and understood, including loyalists?”

Tim Attwood of the SDLP said the fire service should be able to put out bonfires where they posed a risk to property.

“Let’s try to find a way forward to support cultural expression but eliminate the dangers of bonfires.”

David Browne of the UUP said tens of thousands of fires went off without a hitch and those that did cause concern were dealt with.

The issue is to undergo further review.