Bonfire Action Plan decision deferred

Previous bonfires in the Bogside and Fountain estates in Derry.
Previous bonfires in the Bogside and Fountain estates in Derry.

A decision on whether to proceed with a new action plan for tackling bonfires locally following a major funding boost from the European Union has been deferred.

Derry & Strabane’s Health and Community Committee took the decision after a number of recommendations were put before it at its monthly meeting on Thursday evening.

The council has now secured £156,805 in EU Peace IV Shared Spaces and Services funding to develop and deliver an Action Plan by March 2019.

The council was asked to approve an action plan and the establishment of a multi-agency working group. This group will be responsible for taking a strategic overview on the impact of bonfires across Derry and Strabane, and would include Councillors and representatives from the Housing Executive, PSNI, Fire and Rescue Service, Education Authority, Transport NI, Department for Communities and NI Environment Agency, with council officials and the manager of the Policing and Community Safety Partnership also attending.

The committee was told the Council’s own Bonfire Policy outlines a commitment to “set up a Member led, multi-departmental working group” and a further commitment to reduce the number of bonfires, with sufficient community consensus, and explore alternatives.

This would require the recruitment of a Community Engagement Officer, the established of steering groups and bespoke action plans for each area, as well as Best Practise visits.

The committee was told: “Currently there is no multi-agency group to take a strategic overview on the impact of bonfires across the council area.”

It was proposed to make use of existing Community Safety Forums/teams which are already established across the area, while also developing an awareness and education campaign on the dangers of burning toxic materials, and on the negative impact that the burning of flags and emblems has upon communities.

DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock said: “It’s all very well talking to community representatives at community safety forums but it is about how a community safety officer is going to work with the individuals, the actual bonfire builders; how that engagement is going to take place with youngsters out there building bonfires.

“Engagement needs to be at that local area and what might suit one area might not suit another, however I do support multi-agency grouping,” she added.

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said he would have preferred the matter was brought before the already existing Bonfire Working Group. “There is no representation for the bonfire builders,” he said. “The Bonfire Working Group did a lot of engagement. It appears that has just been left by the wayside.”

Colr. Tierney said that in his opinion, bonfires were being dealt with through groups set and already working in the different areas. “If we are going to put this into a Community Safety Team it really looks like we are we are going to wash our hands of it,” he said. “There are some people that won’t go into community safety forums because of the involvement of the PSNI. To tackle issues of bonfires we have agreed at the outset that everybody from the community has a role to play. If we are putting this in a forum we are closing the doors. I would propose we defer this and have a meeting with the Bonfire Working Group to thrash these issues out.”

Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher seconded the proposal and the Committee agreed to defer the matter.