Northern Ireland news

Mid Ulster council bonfire licence challenge 'does not have merit'

A DUP challenge of a council decision to introduce a bonfire licensing scheme does not have merit a barrister has said.
Connla Young

A leading lawyer has said an attempt by unionists to challenge a council decision to introduce a bonfire licencing scheme on its land “does not have merit”.

DUP councillors at Mid Ulster District Council requested for a ‘call-in' after the council voted in by 20 votes to 12 in favour of introducing a licencing scheme for bonfires located on its property.

The decision, which was made in March, angered unionists who had opposed the breakthrough vote.

It is believed to be the first time a council in the north has moved to regulate bonfires in this way on its property.

A ‘call-in' can be triggered if 15 per cent of councillors believe a decision was not properly reached or would adversely affect a section of the community.

It has previously been reported that in a letter requesting the procedure DUP councillors said the bonfire decision had a "direct discriminatory impact on Protestants and unionists”.

The nationalists controlled council established a bonfire working group in January 2017 with membership drawn from the council's environment committee and council officers.

In a document to be presented to the council, high profile barrister Tony McGleenan QC said he was invited to provide an opinion on the call in request pursuant to section 41 of the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 2014.

The leading lawyer reveals that there were “two limbs to the call in request”

“The first limb is advanced under the rubric of section 41(1)(a) of the 2014 act and is based on the contention that the adoption of a bonfire policy was not arrived at after a proper consideration if the relevant facts and issues,” he said.

“The second limb of the call-in request was directed to section 41(1)(b) on the basis that the decision would be disproportionately affect adversely any section of the inhabitants of the district.”

In his conclusion Mr McGleenan said: “While it is possible to ascertain a general direction of travel towards a greater degree of regulation of bonfires hosted on council, lands it is not possible, in my view, to identify the type of disproportionate and adverse effect identified in section 41(1)(b).”

“I have reached the conclusion therefore, that the section 41(1)(b) call in does not have merit.”

A spokeswoman for Mid Ulster District Council last night said the matter will now be reconsidered this week when a simple majority vote will be held.

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