Northern Ireland news

Loyalist Jamie Bryson claims bonfire management scheme is illegal

There have been calls for tighter regulation of bonfires, including forcing organisers to seek insurance

COUNCIL-RUN bonfire schemes, which award grants dependent on communities that adhere to certain conditions, are entirely illegal it has been claimed.

Loyalist Jamie Bryson is to lodge a judicial review, that if successful, could signal an end to bonfire management schemes across Northern Ireland.

The schemes, that have been running since 2005, award grants for family fun days provided organisers adhere to conditions such as no sectarian displays or tyres being burnt on the annual loyalist fires.

There have been attempts to further police the fires by forcing organisers to seek insurance and secure designated plots of land to hold the bonfires.

However, the North Down loyalist claims that this is an attempt to "criminalise" bonfire builders and leaves them open to prosecution.

Should it be successful, councils would need to find another mechanism to fund July festivals separate to the current bonfire management schemes.

There have been calls for tighter regulation of bonfires after incidents last July when a fire in east Belfast was built dangerously close to family homes forcing residents to be evacuated. Fires have also been built close to interfaces or blocking main roads.

Speaking on Thursday Mr Bryson said he was "seeking to challenge the legal strength of the council's policy in Ards & North Down with the view of getting a judgment that reflects the need to separate community fun day funding from imposed bonfire conditions", he said.

"Council also ask groups to get Public Liability Insurance for fun days but not bonfires.

"Given the fun days are almost always in vicinity of a bonfire, this is a back-door mechanism to flip liability onto the community groups and minimise councils legal exposure for effectively indirectly funding bonfires.

"Council now have a choice to make, they either admit they fund bonfires and as such build legal protections into their policy for bonfire groups or else they clearly state they do not fund bonfires and therefore stop meddling in bonfire culture.

"I am aware that every council operates with a degree of autonomy and in many areas it appears councils run good bonfire programs with local unionist groups."

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