Common sense approach needed around Eleventh Night bonfires - The Irish News view

There have been improvements around bonfires in recent years but there are still too many that are dangerously large, cost ratepayers’ money to clean up and damage the environment

Craigyhill bonfire in Larne, Co. Antrim which is estimated to be 200 feet or 60 meters tall. The burning of loyalist bonfires is part of the traditional Twelfth commemorations marking the anniversary of the Protestant King William's victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Picture date: Monday July 8, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story ULSTER Twelfth. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Craigyhill bonfire in Larne is at the centre of a bizarre and ill advised attempt to be regarded as the world's tallest collection of pallets (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Although first time visitors to our region may find it hard to believe, considerable progress has been made in recent years over issues linked to loyalist bonfires on the eve of the July 12 celebrations.

There was a stage when Eleventh Night events were largely unregulated, and involved hundreds of huge conflagrations in urban settings, seriously threatening lives as well as property while also presenting unacceptable environmental risks.

Those working on towering piles of pallets regularly suffered dangerous falls, with a 37-year-old man slipping to his death in Larne only two years ago, and potentially fatal burn injuries also commonplace.

Nearby buildings have been extensively damaged, with some destroyed, and there has been widespread alarm over the high level of air pollution caused by the illegal practice of setting tyres ablaze.

The impact on emergency services has been significant and there are also the major bills faced by rate-payers over the subsequent clean-up operations required in both loyalist and occasionally republican districts.

Some unionist figures insisted for decades that the related concerns were exaggerated by opponents of what they referred to as loyalist culture, but more responsible voices eventually agreed that key points must be addressed.

The result has been a much greater observance of safety precautions, covering the construction process, the positioning of spectators and the increased use of specially designed beacons.

Some problems still remain, and it is verging on the astonishing that different areas have been allowed to engage in open competition over the building of ever larger bonfires, even failing in an attempt to contact the Guinness World Records organisation.

One group in the Craigyhill district of Larne publicly claimed to have reached an unsurpassed height of over 200 feet with its latest project, with an ill advised parachute jump from the top taking place only a short distance from where the last fatality occurred in another part of Larne in 2022.

The stockpiling of combustible material right beside a playpark in east Belfast which has just been upgraded at a cost of almost £2m is disturbing, while the dumping of wood and tyres for a pyre at the Stoneyford reservoir beauty spot in Co Antrim is equally unjustifiable.

It is good to see that some unionist representatives are taking a stronger interest in ecological matters, but it is striking that one DUP MLA has gone as far as objecting to a proposed new Irish language primary school in east Belfast because endangered bats may inhabit an adjoining vacant site.

While advances have been made in the wider debate on bonfires, a degree of common sense and restraint should still plainly be maintained by all those involved.