Mandatory regulation needed to deal with bonfire safety, says UUP leader Doug Beattie

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has said there needs to be mandatory regulation of loyalist bonfires to address safety issues.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 11:27 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 11:31 am

His comments came after a teenager suffered serious burns at a bonfire in north Belfast.

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Boy (17) who caught alight at bonfire in critical condition

Eleventh Night bonfires took place across Northern Ireland at the weekend, preceding the July 12 parades, the main date in the Protestant loyal order marching season.

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The huge bonfire in Craigyhill, Larne, is lit on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Picture date: Monday July 12, 2021.

Mr Beattie told the BBC’s Nolan Show: “Everybody has to look at themselves and ask themselves, is this worth it, that any of our young people could end up in this way?

“There were a number of near-misses over the Eleventh Night bonfire period.

“I get the point that bonfires are a fair expression of identity and culture, they happen around the world.

“But these bonfires need to be safe, they need to be controlled, they need to be well-supervised and they need to have expert professional engagement to deal with the construction, the lighting and the safe distances, and we need to put that in place to ensure that we keep our communities safe.”

Mr Beattie said he had spent three years on the Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions (Fict) commission, which delivered recommendations on bonfires to Stormont’s Executive Office a year ago.

He said: “My party has asked for the Fict commission paper to be brought forward. It (the Executive Office) is a joint office of Sinn Fein and the DUP who have not brought forward this paper, which has clear recommendations in it in regards to bonfires.

“There must be community engagement, because these are community bonfires. If you alienate the community then they ignore anything we bring forward.

“But the reality of this is quite simple: some of these bonfires are not safe, and if they are not safe there needs to be mandatory regulations to stop them putting people’s lives in danger.

“We need to come up with a set of legislations that work for the community and work for the safety of everybody.”

The Fict commission was originally set up in 2016 in a bid to find consensus on a number of contentious issues, but devolution collapsed before it could deliver its report.

Its findings were finally submitted to the First and deputy First Ministers last July, but have not been made public.

Speaking in Stormont last month, Sinn Fein junior minister Declan Kearney said: “It is now almost a year since we took possession of the report and I have sought repeatedly with officials and through special advisers to get this matter expedited over the course of recent months.

“The implementation programme needs to be owned by the entire Executive, all ministers must buy in to that approach.

“The intention was that we would have a special Executive meeting to discuss the report, recommendations and next steps; that has not happened.

“I have asked that it should be progressed, the blockage does not rest with myself.”

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