Harder enforcement of 'grass only' graves policy in Mid and East Antrim cemeteries is on the way

Mid and East Antrim councillors have agreed that graves in new sections of Ballymena cemeteries must be retained in lawn after “disregard for policy” by some grave owners.
Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena. Photo by Google.Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena. Photo by Google.
Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena. Photo by Google.

The issue has been highlighted at a meeting of the borough council’s Environment and Economy Committee which was told that when rules and regulations were approved by the council in 2018, these did not permit grave surrounds in Mid Antrim cemeteries.

The council says it is experiencing “more and more disregard for this policy” at cemeteries in Ballymena with “many grave owners placing small temporary, and in some cases, full surrounds” on graves.

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A report noted graves purchased before July 2018 were permitted to have a small surround. It has indicated as a result, the council has been challenged over why these have been allowed and those purchased after this date have been refused.

The report continued: “The reintroduction of small four ft surrounds would treat everyone on an equal basis in Mid Antrim and would be easier to manage.”

Operations director Philip Thompson told the meeting that lawn cemeteries were in place “for maintenance”.

TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said: “It is very much an exercise to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is unfortunate these infringements have been allowed to happen. I am not sure how we can go back to a family to ask them to regularise them.”

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However, he acknowledged the “current infringement makes it very difficult to maintain”.

Braid DUP Alderman William McCaughey stressed when families purchase plots, they need to be made aware of those which are in lawn cemeteries. He reported 40 to 50 “infringements” at Ballee Cemetery.

Cllr Gaston said he would not be in favour of asking 40 to 50 families to remove grave surrounds and proposed those erected around loved ones’ graves be permitted to remain.

DUP Cllr Gregg McKeen asked: “How we got into this situation beggars belief. To go to a family now and ask them to remove something would be very difficult and very disturbing for most families.”

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He suggested in future, “original policy” must be enforced. He also stressed the council would not be asking anyone to remove a surround.

Meanwhile Cllr Gaston went on to say an undertaker was “fined” by the council for a late arrival at a Ballymena cemetery after a funeral service over-ran.

Mr Thompson said he was aware of that particular incident and insisted it was not a “fine” but “an additional charge” as it had extended over a “cut-off point”.

“It is not a fine. It is an additional cost. It runs into staff overtime,” he explained.