Mid and East Antrim bonfire decision: 'council will engage with local communities to reduce risk'

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has formally confirmed it “does not regulate or give permission for any unauthorised activity on council-owned land or property”.
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It has also said that it has “never consented to unauthorised activity on its land”.

This agreement was reached during a discussion behind closed doors by councillors at a special meeting last month on the way forward for bonfire management in the borough.

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Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has deferred making a decision on bonfire management for more than a year after being first told to agree a way forward.

Craigyhill bonfire. Pic by Local Democracy Reporting ServiceCraigyhill bonfire. Pic by Local Democracy Reporting Service
Craigyhill bonfire. Pic by Local Democracy Reporting Service

The issue has been highlighted in Mid and East Antrim following the death of Larne man John Steele, a father-of-two, who was in his thirties, after a fall from the Antiville bonfire which he had been helping to build in the town in July 2022.

The issue of bonfire management was first placed on the local government authority’s agenda in January 2023. It is understood that legal recommendations have been provided to councillors. Recently, meetings have been taking place between interim chief executive Valerie Watts and community groups.

The council has acknowledged that locally, bonfires are “an important part of identity, tradition and cultural expression”.

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Mid & East Antrim Council headquarters at The BraidMid & East Antrim Council headquarters at The Braid
Mid & East Antrim Council headquarters at The Braid

The council has agreed: “In the event communities seek to proceed with a bonfire on council-owned land, council, to mitigate risk, will engage with local communities, seeking to manage and reduce risk through initiatives such as the cultural celebrations grants scheme and the beacon programme, thereby promoting and encouraging safer cultural celebrations wherever possible.”

It was also agreed council officers will liaise with community representatives to develop a “community engagement protocol” which will be brought back to councillors for approval.

The local authority is to commission a two-month consultation “to examine best practice in managing cultural and bonfire celebrations” and will engage with local communities, groups and organisers involved in such events. The council was responding to a report by officers seeking approval in relation to the management of bonfires.

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Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke proposed accepting the recommendations and his amendments and that of Ballymena Independent Cllr Rodney Quigley, seconded by party colleague Larne Lough Cllr Gregg McKeen.

The proposals were carried following a vote with 20 councillors in favour, DUP, Ulster Unionist and Sinn Fein and 13 against, Alliance, TUV and Knockagh Independent Cllr Bobby Hadden.

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An amendment was proposed by Carrick Castle Alliance Cllr Lauren Gray that “this council shall undertake to support a policy that protects the public against risk to life and serious risk to property and therefore retains the right to remove bonfires on its property where this risk exists”.

The proposed amendment was seconded by party colleague Alliance Cllr Aaron Skinner. It was defeated following a vote in which ten councillors were in favour and 23 against.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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