THOSE responsible for loyalist bonfires should be subject to the same laws as everyone else, according to Alliance.
Assembly member Naomi Long (East Belfast) was speaking after it was revealed that work on 11 July bonfires has already started in some areas, such as the Lower Newtownards Road.
Councillor Long said: “While Eleventh Night bonfires are an important cultural tradition for many, they are often built and burnt at the community’s expense. Starting dumping for a July bonfire in February is plainly stretching people’s patience, as it creates an eyesore and danger to children for half a year. One person’s culture is another person’s fly-tipping; there must be a balanced approach.
“When the fire is lit, residents are forced to protect their properties, but it is a well-known fact that the fires melt PVC windows and guttering and frighten animals. For ‘community representatives’ to suggest that this is OK because residents don’t object is ridiculous. People don’t complain because they are afraid of paramilitaries and they know the authorities will not protect them.
“Bonfires are also an environmental hazard and present a danger to children, yet the authorities have shied away from properly dealing with the situation. Afterwards, sites are abandoned by the organisers, leaving ratepayers to pick up the cost of cleansing and repair.
“Alliance has proposed that those hosting bonfires should in all circumstances establish an official organising committee which should apply to the public agencies owning the land for permission. The committees should take on board what is and is not suitable for burning from the Fire Service and follow what the PSNI have to say about safety arrangements. Committees should also have to take out public liability insurance to cover any damage or injuries.
“Consideration should also be given to the direct costs to the PSNI and Fire Service in dealing with the immediate problems a fire can present, and to the councils, Housing Executive and Roads Service in cleaning up the mess afterwards.
“The law and accountability go out the window every July. It shouldn’t happen then, and there is no need for it to start in February.”