Daily Ireland

Bonfires cost us £750K

The 841 bonfires set alight in the North of Ireland last year cost the public almost three quarters of a million pounds.

A report by the Interagency Working Group on Bonfires has revealed that the Fire Service bill for dealing with the blazes was £232,469, while the policing bill came in at £206,623.
It cost the Housing Executive and 23 district councils a total of £292,237 to clean up the bonfire sites.
The total bonfire bill for the year stood at £731,329 — not including the costs incurred by the North’s hospitals, which were unable to provide expenditure statistics for bonfire-related injuries.
Most of last year’s bonfires were set alight on July 11.
Realising that drastic action needs to be taken to minimise bonfire costs, some district councils have already set up or are in the process of setting up bonfire management programmes. These schemes involve councils temporarily handing over public land to loyalists for bonfires on condition the bonfires are kept small and are well managed.
Unionists on Belfast City Council are trying to force the council into implementing this programme in time for this year’s bonfire season.
However, nationalist politicians remain unconvinced of the scheme’s merits.
Sinn Féin councillor Fra McCann said it would be hard to convince nationalists of the benefits of handing over public land for sectarian celebrations, especially after the full costs of the bonfires has been revealed.
“I am opposed to bonfires because they are nothing more than one community celebrating a victory over the other,” said Mr McCann.
“They are generally burned in sensitive areas close to peace lines and, in the past, bonfires have been the catalyst for attacks on the nationalist community.
“Bonfires have only ever had a negative impact on the community and been a drain on the public purse. We cannot keep spending hundreds of thousands of pounds every year on dealing with these celebrations of sectarianism.”
North Belfast SDLP councillor Martin Morgan said he was also opposed to the proposed bonfire programme.
The former Lord Mayor said, “The loyalist community needs to move away from bonfires. They destroy the fabric of society, causing huge environmental damage and costing the public a fortune. If loyalists were to move away from bonfires and develop cultural festivals like nationalists, I would have no problem in supporting them receiving council funding.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers admited that last year’s bonfire expenditure figures are worrying. However, he insisted that the loyalist community should not get all the blame.
He said, “Nationalists burn bonfires as well, although not as many as loyalists. What Sinn Féin and the SDLP has to remember is that bonfires are an integral part of the unionist community. They will always be burned in Protestant areas. What local councils need to do is to ensure bonfires are well managed, and damage they cause is kept to an absolute minimum.”

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