The SDLP backed the Sinn Fein motion but it was defeated by an Alliance amendment, directing council officers to review the entire 2021 bonfire season. The Amendment also directed council officers to write to the Stormont Executive Office asking for the Flags Identity Culture and Tradition (FICT) report to be published, along with an action plan, to help inform council plans. The amendment was backed by the DUP, UUP, PUP and Green Party, and passed by 33 votes to 26.
But Sinn Fein said it would not be letting the matter go. Councillor Ciaran Beattie said: “Sinn Féin will continue in our efforts to ensure that bonfires in this city no longer present a threat to life, property, the environment or to the rule of law.” SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said it had been “a missed opportunity” adding that we “can’t continue to pretend that these issues are somehow untouchable”.
But North Belfast DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst said his party would work with other political parties, statutory agencies, “and most importantly, bonfire builders” to build a workable way forward.
He added: “Shortly after the 11th July bonfires, Sinn Fein were preaching about the health and safety of Protestants celebrating the Eleventh of July. Fast forward three weeks, Sinn Fein were eulogising and glorifying IRA firebomber Thomas McElwee, a hunger striker jailed for firebombing a Ballymena shop during which a 26 year-old Protestant mother-of-three was murdered. Their hypocrisy is on public record for all to see.”
Alliance Councillor Nuala McAllister had said the Sinn Fein approach would cause a backlash and instead commended the council’s current bonfire scheme, which incentivises organisers to work within a code of conduct.
Her party confirmed that she had said on Monday night, however, that it would press ahead with a regulatory scheme; but only targeting ‘problem’ bonfires and that there must be consultation from the top down regarding this.
The Green party said the review of bonfires by council officials, as backed in the vote, would be considered at committee level on 19 November and that any future plans would depend on the findings.
TUV North Belfast Assembly candidate Ron McDowell expressed concern about the impact on community relations of the motion.
“Far from Nationalists seeking to build community relations and address genuine concerns about bonfires, this foolish motion has only exacerbated tensions which were already high,” he said.
“I am far from alone in believing that [Monday night’s] nonsense was nothing short of an attempt to goad the Loyalists of Belfast in order to provoke a reaction. It is to the credit of the community that these efforts have, to date, been unsuccessful.”
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