News Letter

**From last week

Bonfire Dumps Are Gathering Protests
Thursday 8th April 2004

THE early collection of material for 11th of July bonfires this year is creating social and environmental problems across the Province.

Councils and the Housing Executive have received complaints about rubbish being piled high at some sites from as early as mid-February - five months before the annual celebrations.

In Belfast, wooden pallets, tyres and household rubbish have been dumped in areas including Annadale Embankment, Mersey Street off the Lower Newtownards Road and the Belvoir estate, close to Shaw's Bridge.

Outside the city, bonfire preparations are under way in towns including Ballynahinch and Coleraine and the city of Lisburn.

No one is clear why collections have started so early.

East Belfast councillor Naomi Long said: "There is an element of competition to see who can have the biggest bonfire each year, so, once one area starts, other areas follow suit."

Housing Executive officials have said that the earliest gathering of material in years past has been shortly after Easter.

"It's beyond belief," said one official. "We used to get complaints after Easter because it was so early - now it's early February."

People in the affected areas have said bonfire sites are being used for illegal dumping.

Ms Long said: "I have heard that there have been people opposed to the gathering of bonfire material so early posting leaflets around the Annadale area encouraging others

to dump rubbish at the bonfire site, in order to force the council to come along and clear it all up.

"No one is opposed to people celebrating but, while people are prepared to put up with the bonfire rubbish for a short period directly before the the fires are set alight, it is too much when they are being expected to to put with it for six months at a time."

Ms Long said the bonfire rubbish at Mersey Street had been cleared away in recent days because it had been sitting on the area where a housing development is being built.

The councillor said she had spoken to residents there who said the site had become a focus for drinking, vandalism and other anti-social behaviour since the fire material was collected.

Outside Belfast, there have been reports of former bonfire committees being resurrected to deal with the issue.

Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers and Ms Long both said this was the type of action which was needed to control the problem.

They added that a review of the whole situation was needed.

"I have nothing against bonfires. I have fond memories of collecting wood when I was a kid," said Mr Rodgers.

"But there are issues - environmental, social and health concerns.

"I know we have debated in the past local councils providing designated bonfire sites but the problem with that is that councils are liable for insurance costs if someone is injured. Premiums soar and ratepayers suffer.

"I think what we really need is more community leadership.

"There are a lot of community groups out there and the bonfires need to be properly marshalled from start to finish."

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