Long calls for bonfire taskforce

Alliance Councillor Michael Long has called for a taskforce to deal with bonfires, after five families were forced to move home thanks to the damage caused by an Eleventh Night blaze in a Shankill estate.

Flames from the pyre at Hopewell Square caused properties at a nearby terrace to catch fire, forcing residents – including a 72-year-old woman and her two-year-old great-granddaughter – were forced to flee as firefighters tackled the blaze. Three properties were gutted, with two others sustaining smoke damage.

“It is a farcical situation that a number of families have been forced to leave their homes due to the effects of a nearby bonfire, with several having their houses completely gutted by the blaze,” said Lisnasharragh Councillor Mr Long.

“This was preceded by a children’s playground in East Belfast being temporarily removed in order to accommodate a bonfire there, a location that also had racist graffiti daubed on a pallet there. No sane person would explain this as culture and it is clear things need to change.

“We don’t need to start discussing next year’s bonfires come July 2017 but rather now. Alliance believes in respectful and non-intimidating displays of culture but it is clear some bonfires are not that – try telling someone who has their election poster placed on a bonfire or who sees their national flag burnt on top of one it is not intimidating.

“The Executive needs to work alongside Councils and the PSNI to establish an inter-agency taskforce to address this ongoing, now annual issue. The buck-passing between various authorities does nothing but prolong the problems surrounding this issue and it needs to stop now before yet more families are made homeless due to some excuse for culture.”

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