£30,000 of ratepayers money is set to be handed over by Newtownabbey Council to create a site for Ballyduff’s 12th of July bonfire this year – despite council officials admitting the shadowy group behind the construction is refusing to take any responsibility for the event.
The proposal was put forward at Monday night’s monthly council meeting (March 31), sparking a row that saw angry councillors accuse officials of trying to push through the plans without proper consultation.
The bonfire, known as ‘The Beast’, was so large last year that nearby houses were put at risk. It was eventually moved, but the loyalists who built it were promised a permanent solution would be found ahead of this year’s Twelfth.
The council’s official term for the building project is that it is an “environmental scheme”.
In the end, the vote was delayed by a week to be put in front of the planning committee, but it is expected to pass with unionist support.
In the chamber there was anger that councillors weren’t furnished with design plans for the installation until they requested copies. They were then distributed, but none were made available for the press.
This led Alliance councillor Lynn Fraser to question the whole process.
“This has come out of the blue. At none of the (previous) meetings was this mooted. To come in tonight to just have it handed to you and be asked to make a decision is wrong. We should have had an opportunity of discussing it.”
UUP councillor John Scott, who is a community worker in Ballyduff, said he couldn’t work out what the plans were describing, so poor was the quality.
Alliance councillor Tom Campbell said he also had concerns.
“I am concerned that yet again, a decision of this nature is thrust on us in this form, without looking at many of the issues we talked about regarding legal advice and insurance (and) I don’t see reference to it in this document.
“I trust the officers and know they are busy, but if one was of a suspicious nature it one would take that this is being done with an ulterior motive, and I don’t believe that, but it is totally unsatisfactory for us to be asked to vote on spending £30,000 on what looks to be a glorified wall.”
Sinn Féin’s Gerry O’Reilly said he was concerned that the group behind the bonfire remained anonymous.
“I cannot believe that this council is going to endorse a group that isn’t constituted. There are members of this group I would have concerns about, about how they go about dealing with the community and putting themselves to the fore.
“Lets call this what it is. It’s not an environmental scheme, it’s a bonfire.
“I can’t believe what is going on here tonight….what we’re saying is that anybody who wants to have a bonfire, who wants the council to go and acquire land and come up with a wonderful ‘environmental scheme’ – which is really a front for a bonfire – that we will do it for them. We will be inundated (with requests) and it will cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds.” Council director Majella McAllister, who had been in contact with the bonfire builders, said the lack of consultation was down to officials being forced to come up with a solution that could be completed quickly for use this year and would suit the Housing Executive, on whose land the ‘environmental feature’ will be built.
She said she wasn’t suggesting that Council take over the management of the bonfire.
DUP councillor Robert Hill said he supported the proposals, but his party colleagues Victor Robinson and Billy DeCourcey both said they saw the overall issue as “very difficult”. However the DUP is expected to vote in favour of the proposal at this Monday’s Planning Committee meeting (April 7), which all councillors attend.