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Unionist councillors say yes to ‘The Beast’

By Staff Reporter

One of the most biggest and most dangerous bonfires ever constructed to celebrate the Twelfth of July could be built with the blessing of Newtownabbey Borough Council next year after councillors voted in favour of using ratepayers’ money to buy land for a permanent location.

And the North Belfast News has learned that the Council has already been in contact with the Housing Executive over securing a site in the Ballyduff estate.

Last year the bonfire – nicknamed ‘The Beast’ – made headlines after local people expressed concern at its proximity to their homes. Estimated to contain upwards of 10,000 tyres, it was eventually moved in the face of public pressure. But loyalists defended its construction at the time and unionist councillors agreed to look at a permanent solution in the future.

In October, unionists voted in favour of a motion kickstarting the process of identifying a site that could permanently used for the bonfire. On taking that decision they were warned by council officials that they could run into legal trouble, but at December’s monthly Development Committee meeting it was revealed that a site had been found that would be suitable and at the full Council meeting on December 23 unionist councillors united to back a proposal to buy the site.

Sinn Féin Councillor Gerry O’Reilly said: “This is hugely disappointing and opens the door to others looking for bonfire sites,” he said. “It sets a very bad example and this Council has other more pressing priorities.”

He said the estimated cost of £60,000 will rise as it did not take into account the cost of the land – only the preparation of the site. The land is owned by the Housing Executive.

“That £60,000 is just for an environmental scheme and it will cost much more to buy the land. It is hugely disappointing and an example of bad governance,” he added.

However, Alliance Councillor John Blair, who also voted against the proposal, said the acquisition of the bonfire site was not a foregone conclusion.

“The scheme appears to have moved forward one more step but it is not inevitable,” he said. “A residents’ survey has to be carried out but I am opposed to Council providing any space for a bonfire site as it sets a dangerous precedent.”

He said he has been in contact with the PSNI and the Environmental Crime Unit over the failure of the authorities to enforce environmental protection legislation over bonfire sites.

No unionist councillor contacted by the North Belfast News was available for comment.

A spokesman for the Housing Executive confirmed they were in talks over the land.

“The Housing Executive can confirm that discussions are currently ongoing with regard to the provision of a suitable site for the annual bonfire in Ballyduff,” said the spokesman.

“However, nothing has yet been finalised.”

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