Northern Ireland news

Councillors clash over spending on bonfire diversionary fund

The council heard events like the Féile dance night helped young people stay out of trouble

COUNCILLORS have clashed over the cost of a bonfire diversionary fund during a debate on rates.

Sinn Féin and unionist parties in Belfast carried through a 7.99 per cent rate for homeowners and businesses, one of the largest in years.

An unsuccessful Alliance proposal to reduce the rise to 7.71 per cent by dropping the summer diversionary scheme, which directs young people away from antisocial and criminal behaviour over the summer, led to bitter exchanges.

Mr Long said the £500,000 spent on the diversionary fund was “a reasonable sum of money”.

"I don’t think that spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on DJs being brought into Belfast is any good for anybody. I can think of much better ways to spend our money in terms of our ratepayers. Having DJs is not a credible strategy in tackling bonfires," he said.

Sinn Féin councillor Ciaran Beattie said the scheme had improved this city.

"They have reduced tension in times of the year when, if you look at it from a global perspective, this city was projected in a very negative light. At a time when the media portrays Belfast as not the place to go to. You can’t quantify the damage that does to the city in terms of reputation. Not to mention the cost of cleaning up behind bonfires," he said.

"What this fund did was create positive events in the city, where thousands and thousands of young people, through Féile in particular in west Belfast, went and enjoyed themselves instead of getting into trouble."

DUP councillor George Dorrian said: "If those elected representatives actually attended the bonfires, and saw the change in atmosphere in east Belfast over the three years this programme has been running, they would see that not just bonfire builders but entire communities have bought into this."

Northern Ireland news