UUP leader says mandatory regulation needed to deal with bonfire safety

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie. Credit: PA

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has said there needs to be mandatory regulation of loyalist bonfires to address safety issues.

His comments come after a teenager suffered serious burns at a bonfire in north Belfast.

The incident happened at Silverstream Crescent in the Ballysillan area.

Eleventh Night bonfires took place across Northern Ireland at the weekend, preceding the 12 July parades - the main date in the Protestant loyal order marching season.

"There were a number of near-misses over the Eleventh Night bonfire period," Mr Beattie said.

"I get the point that bonfires are a fair expression of identity and culture, they happen around the world.

"But these bonfires need to be safe, they need to be controlled, they need to be well supervised and they need to have expert professional engagement to deal with the construction, the lighting and the safe distances, and we need to put that in place to ensure that we keep our communities safe."

Eleventh Night bonfires took place across Northern Ireland at the weekend, preceding the July 12 parades. Credit: UTV

Mr Beattie said he had spent three years on the Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions (Fict) commission, which delivered recommendations on bonfires to Stormont's Executive Office a year ago.

He said: "My party has asked for the Fict commission paper to be brought forward. It (the Executive Office) is a joint office of Sinn Féin and the DUP who have not brought forward this paper, which has clear recommendations in it in regards to bonfires.

"There must be community engagement, because these are community bonfires. If you alienate the community, then they ignore anything we bring forward.

"We need to come up with a set of legislations that work for the community and work for the safety of everybody."

The Fict commission was originally set up in 2016 in a bid to find consensus on a number of contentious issues, but devolution collapsed before it could deliver its report.

Its findings were finally submitted to the First and deputy First Ministers last July, but have not been made public.

Speaking at Stormont last month, Sinn Féin Junior Minister Declan Kearney said: "It is now almost a year since we took possession of the report and I have sought repeatedly with officials and through special advisers to get this matter expedited over the course of recent months.

"The implementation programme needs to be owned by the entire Executive, all ministers must buy in to that approach.

"The intention was that we would have a special Executive meeting to discuss the report, recommendations and next steps - that has not happened.

"I have asked that it should be progressed, the blockage does not rest with myself."