Northern Ireland

Deferral of council meeting on legal advice surrounding bonfires to September condemned as 'unbelievable'

The Craigyhill bonfire under construction in Larne.
The Craigyhill bonfire under construction in Larne.

The deferring until September of a council meeting to discuss legal advice on Eleventh Night bonfires has been slammed as "unbelievable".

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council was due to hold a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the legal position of bonfires being constructed on council-owned land.

The meeting was deferred following a TUV proposal seconded by the UUP and supported by unionist councillors.

It is now scheduled for September, a month-and-a-half after Eleventh Night pyres will be lit, prompting an Alliance councillor to claim the move "defeats the entire purpose of this meeting".

The meeting had been called by new Alliance mayor Gerardine Mulvenna, with safety issues due to be discussed following the death of 36-year-old John Steele at a bonfire site in Larne last year.

It is understood the council is facing legal action by relatives of Mr Steele over the death, while it is believed up to 19 loyalist bonfires are being constructed on council-operated land this year.

Alliance councillor Aaron Skinner said: “We have a duty to ensure the safety of all residents. That’s why the special meeting was called. We have already seen tragedy strike locally last year.

“The absolute last thing anyone wants to see is a repeat of that heart-breaking event."

He continued: “It is unbelievable unionist councillors have now voted to adjourn this special meeting until September, when bonfire season is over. That defeats the entire purpose of this meeting."

Mr Skinner said the council "desperately needs a strategy" on bonfires built on its land, warning that a failure to do so was exposing the local authority to "potential legal jeopardy, while putting members of the public’s lives at risk".

Read More : What are eleventh night bonfires?

“We do not want to see bonfires removed entirely but they must be safe and respectful," he added.

The deferral motion was proposed by TUV Ballymena councillor Matthew Armstrong.

Bannside TUV councillor Timothy Gaston told the Irish News the issue of bonfire management was a “work in progress”.

“I would call into question the mayor’s calling of this special meeting. Now that the council election is out of the way, Alliance has once again showed it is no friend to unionism,” he said.

Read more: Mid and East Antrim council urged not to allow bonfires on land