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New bonfire policy to take joined up approach to burning issue

08 December 2016

Members of the Health and Community Committee today gave their backing to a new bonfire policy for the Derry and Strabane district, which takes a cohesive approach to tackling the issue involving a wide range of statutory and community partners.

The policy aims to provide a framework for minimising the impact of bonfires on Council land and subject to further approval from Full Council, a consultation process will now get underway in the coming months involving local agencies, groups and the general public. A number of public consultation events will take place to gauge the response to the new policy to ensure everyone has the opportunity to feed into the proposed action plan.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Hilary McClintock, said she welcomed Members’ decision to support the adoption of the proposed policy. “I think this sends a strong message that Council is committed to the development of an effective resolution to this issue, and although within some communities bonfires are part of their cultural identity public safety and protection of the environment are also important.

“This inclusive and collaborative approach will promote communication between the many statutory agencies and community representatives who deal with the issue on the ground, and where local residents and businesses do not want bonfires in their neighbourhoods, we will seek to find alternatives to bonfires which will enhance community relations and benefit local people. I look forward to seeing the plans progress now to the next stage.”

Head of Community Development and Leisure with Derry City and Strabane District Council, Barry O'Hagan, said the policy would offer more definitive guidance on the issues surrounding bonfires on council lands.

“We are aware that every year this issue has become a point of contention for many local communities,” he said. “This new policy aims to bring together all those partners with a vested interest in finding resolutions to the problem and at its core is Council’s commitment to controlling risk to members of the public accessing Council Land. 

“We aim to work closely with partners including the emergency services, Housing Executive and other statutory bodies, as well as the public, over the coming months to develop a policy and action plan which addresses the key issues. While we recognize that bonfires are regarded as an expression of cultural identity, the strategy will explore and promote safer alternatives to bonfires which will be acceptable to all.

“We recognize that this process will take time, but are committed to working with communities to bring about the cultural change needed in our approach to bonfires through raising awareness and promoting understanding regarding the potential risks of such events. Council asks that all communities engage with the consultation process and give their recommendations regarding actions which would assist in finding long-term resolution of the issue.”

In order to implement the proposed strategy, a multi-departmental working group will be established to assess the impact of bonfires across Derry and Strabane and review policy on an annual basis. The group will also engage with those who participate in bonfires to provide guidance and direction, as well as set up educational interventions to highlight the social and environmental impact of bonfires.

Council will also consider the protocols in terms of the removal of hazardous materials, and also the prevention of planned bonfires should communities object and if organisers do not adhere to safety requirements. Specific bonfire management conditions and guidance stipulating the minimum requirements for a safe well managed bonfire event will also be developed.