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Hargey welcomes Belfast City Council bonfire report

9 April, 2018 - by Deirdre Hargey

Sinn Féin Councillor Deirdre Hargey said tonight that the party welcomes the report from Dr Tom Frawley’s investigation of the collection and storage of bonfire material by the Council, and other bonfire related matters in 2017. 

Deirdre Hargey said:

“The report gives the Council a good basis to work from in future in taking a balanced,  appropriate and legal approach to bonfires and cultural expression. 

“It is also important to recognise this is not a report belonging to one party or another, but rather provides an independent perspective.  The report is being made public today, although officers’ names are anonymised, in line with our legal responsibilities towards our staff.

“Therefore we have also provided a summary of the actions which took place surrounding the two sites in question,  Walkway in East Belfast and Hope Street in South Belfast. The Council already made a decision that it would not in future, store and return materials after lifting them from sites, following concerns from the community. 

“In his report, Dr Frawley points out that many bonfires are regarded as a positive cultural expression within many unionist communities, where the protection of people, property and the environment is demonstrated.  However, he also refers to the serious risks associated with a number of bonfires, and in particular on the risks associated with the bonfires in 2017 on the two sites his report focused on. He said these risks were unacceptable.  

“He emphasises the need for a clear and more comprehensive approach to risk management and mitigation across all of the agencies with statutory responsibilities and with communities and bonfire organisers.  The Council would like to see solutions from grass roots community leaders, but also calls on all public agencies with responsibilities to work collectively to mitigate risks to life, property and the environment and to ensure that displays of sectarianism/racism and/or any form of hate crime does not occur at or around unregulated bonfire sites. 

"In terms of the council processes the report raises serious issues  about the robustness of the governance arrangements applied to decision making in 2017 around the two sites in question. This includes the application of the Council's scheme of delegation and escalation procedures for taking such decisions and it criticises the absence of effective record keeping. In response to this, the Council has called its senior management team to bring forward a new decision making and reporting framework so that, going forward, there is greater assurance that decisions on issues such as bonfires are made with the appropriate political authority.   

“Dr Frawley’s report refers to the political context relating to approaches to bonfires. He also highlights that political agreement and/or decisions at a local authority level are essential in dealing with issues that arise in an appropriate way this year and in the years to come.    

“The council also agreed to continue with its programme for supporting positive cultural expression activities, with appropriate funding being made available to groups who meet the specified enhanced criteria. 

“The council is also looking at the potential of resourcing alternatives such as community festivals to promote celebrations of cultural expression.”

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