DUP and UUP justify boycott of council bonfire committee while Sinn Fein and SDLP object

Unionists have boycotted Derry City & Strabane District Council’s bonfire committee because they believe it was set up to deal with republican bonfires - and that their own events are safely managed.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 6:40 pm
Previous bonfires in the Bogside and Fountain estates in Londonderry.
Previous bonfires in the Bogside and Fountain estates in Londonderry.

The council has set up a meeting to find out the DUP and UUP have refused to nominate representatives to the Bonfire Working Group.

At a special meeting of the council on Monday to nominate representatives to internal and external bodies, both UUP and DUP representatives said they would not be putting forward members.

The issue has arisen as youths across the city and district are already gathering materials for the July 11 and August 15 bonfires.

The committee was created in 2018 to facilitate councillors and council officers working with partner agencies to coordinate an agreed response to bonfires, and in particular provocative signs and emblems placed on them. The council secured £156,805 from the EU Peace funding to develop an Action Plan.

However unionists have explained to the News Letter why they have this year stepped back.

DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney said the committee was set up primarily to deal with republican bonfires, which had at the time been causing major concerns.

He added: “We find that our party has been pulled into a situation regarding bonfires in the PUL [Protestant Unionist Loyalist] community in the Waterside.”

But I have to commend the Waterside bonfires and the PUL community. Over the years they have raised the bar and they have small committees working on their bonfires, making sure that they are safe.”

He said that in the more nationalist City side of Londonderry, Sinn Fein and the SDLP did not get the “buy in” they had hoped for in managing republican bonfires.

UUP Alderman Darren Guy said there was “no doubt” there are problems with the committee.

“It seems to be a talking shop for the Galliagh [a nationalist area] bonfire every year,” he said. ”We have to listen to six months of what we are going to do in Galliagh.” 

There is a perception the committee was originally set up to close down all bonfires, he said - but the main bonfire problems would be in the mainly nationalist Bogside and Galliagh areas.

“There has never been major problems with PUL communities and their bonfires in the city. They have actually been taking a lead in rejecting assistance from the council. They have done health and safety classes that deal with heights and have their whole areas fenced off.” 

However SDLP councillor Brian Tierney urged unionists to rejoin. “I was shocked when the DUP and UUP refused to nominate representatives to the group,” he said.

“I have been the SDLP member of the working group since it was created and while we have had challenges over the years, I have always found the opportunity to talk through difficult situations incredibly useful and I have no doubt that the work has contributed to calm in the city.”

Sinn Féin councillor Sandra Duffy said: “If they are serious about addressing the issues of the bonfires, they should reconsider this decision, get back around the table and work constructively with other parties,” councillor Sandra Duffy said.

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