Opinion

The Irish News view: Bonfires must meet safety guidelines

Bonfire material gathered in the Galliagh area of Derry for an August 15 bonfire which local residents were opposed to due to ongoing anti-social behaviour
Bonfire material gathered in the Galliagh area of Derry for an August 15 bonfire which local residents were opposed to due to ongoing anti-social behaviour Bonfire material gathered in the Galliagh area of Derry for an August 15 bonfire which local residents were opposed to due to ongoing anti-social behaviour

The prolonged violence which followed the entirely reasonable decision to remove bonfire materials from an unauthorised site in Derry was deeply alarming.

There were reports of shots being fired at one stage during the disturbances in the nationalist Galliagh district of the city on Tuesday, and, the previous day, a motorist was pulled out of his car which was set on fire after he was struck over the head.

Debris, apparently blown out of the exploding vehicle, then struck a 19-year-old girl who was walking past and could easily have killed her.

The teenager's jaw was broken in two places and she will also need plastic surgery over what her mother described as a hole in her cheek.

It was a particularly horrific incident during a period of rioting and destruction when some residents said they were too frightened to leave their own homes.

One pensioner was forced to move out after hooligans set fire to her garden fence and there were fears the blaze could spread to her house, while bricks and petrol bombs thrown at two buses neaby.

Derry's Sinn Féin mayor, Patricia Logue, was correct to describe the events as unacceptable, and to appeal to the perpetrators to stop causing `damage and upset' within their community.

The contentious bonfire was due to be lit to mark the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, when Catholics pay tribute to Mary, the mother of Jesus, although it can be safely assumed that those planning to assemble late at night in Galliagh were not motivated by spiritual considerations.

Growing concerns were expressed over related anti social behaviour in recent years and there were indications that further injuries and damage to property could take place next week.

There will be a widespread feeling that the owner of the site, the Department for Communities, was fully entitled to instruct outside contractors to take away the material which had been dumped in the area, and there could certainly be no justification for the mayhem which followed.

Illegal and dangerous bonfires have been allowed to cause upheaval and even death in both nationalist and loyalist neighbourhoods for far too long.

Most of the issues have been associated with Eleventh Night gatherings and it is alarming that similar problems should also be emerging in Derry.

The opportunity to construct supervised pyres, which meet safety guidelines and greatly reduce the risk to the general public, is readily available and represents the way ahead for both sides of our divided society.