Northern Ireland news

Bonfire organisers will need their own insurance

The Eleventh Night bonfire near Sandy Row last year
Connla Young

Bonfire organisers will be forced to fork out for insurance under a new pyre policy drawn up by Mid Ulster District Council.

It comes as a 'draft policy for the management of bonfires on council property' was passed at a meeting of the council’s environment committee last night.

The draft policy and ‘community celebration event guidance/application pack', was considered by the Bonfire Working Group before being presented to the committee for approval.

The development comes just weeks after Mid Ulster District Council voted to introduce a bonfire licensing scheme across the district.

Last month a senior lawyer said a challenge brought by unionists, who are opposed to the plan, “does not have merit”.

It is believed to be the first time a council in the north has introduced regulation of bonfires in this way.

Members of the working group last night revealed that the new policy will include placing a responsibility on bonfire organisers to have their own public liability insurance.

It is understood council officers have identified several insurance firms willing to provide cover for bonfires as long as organisers give an undertaking to follow the new policy.

Sources say this includes an undertaking not to burn potentially toxic material including tyres.

It is understood that organisers will also be required to place safety barriers around pyres for health and safety reasons.

The new council policy includes a ban on placing flags and effigies on bonfires.

There has been controversy in recent years after effigies of politicians and nationalists flags were put on loyalist bonfires across the north.

The draft policy will now go before the main council for approval before being put out for a 13-week consultation.

It is expected the final draft of the policy and procedures will be completed in October and be in place for the 2019 bonfire season.

It is believed that around eight bonfires are currently held on council property across the district each year.

In the past “difficulties” have been identified with two sites in particular, Killymerron in Dungannon and Killymoon in Cookstown.

Sinn Féin councillor Brian McGuigan, who sits on the Bonfire Working Group and Environment Committee, said insurance is an issue.

“You cannot expect to run an event and ask the person whose land you are using to provide public liability (insurance),” he said.

Mr McGuigan said potential insurers will expect organisers to follow guidelines set down by council for the safe operation of bonfires.

“There’s a set of guidelines you have to go by that have to be provided to the insurance company and provided that’s in place they have no issue with it.”

Although entitled to, it is believed the DUP has never attended a Bonfire Working Group meeting.

UUP representative Walter Cuddy, who does sit on the group, said that council officers have told members that insurance for bonfires “is easy to get at a reasonable price”.

“We have been told it’s not a massive issue, I don’t know in reality.”

The UUP man has concerns about the draft policy and says the bonfire issue could have been handled in a “more sensible and mature way”.

“The way it’s moving at the moment you will alienate small communities , marginalise them and maybe criminalise them,” he said.

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