The cultural targeting of bonfires- from regulation to criminalisation 

This was originally written in 2015 as part of a strategy document to combat cultrual targetting of bonfires in the Ards & North Down area. 

Regulation and the Triple-Lock system leading to the eradication of traditional bonfires
The process around the statutory management of bonfires will eventually lead to attempts to impose a regulatory system, underpinned by legislation. This process will follow the same path of the method deployed by the Government to deal with parading. This approach- following the North Report- led to the formation of the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland, which was brought into effect by virtue of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998. A copy of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 is attached within the appendixes in order to demonstrate the likely shape of legislation that could come into force in relation to bonfires.

Such a regulatory framework- as proposed by the DoE consultation on the management of bonfires titled Options To Develop The Better Management And Control Of Bonfires (attached in appendixes) – would create a triple-lock system and eventually lead to the criminalisation of bonfire builders and the eradication of bonfires as they are defined in a traditional sense.

Firstly groups would have to seek permission from the landowner- quite often this is a statutory body such as the Council or NIHE. It is entirely unrealistic to expect any statutory body would give permission for a bonfire on their land unless the stringent environmental, waste management and health and safety conditions had been met. It is virtually impossible for a traditional bonfire to meet such conditions without diluting the tradition beyond all recognition. This means that the first step within a regulatory process is already insurmountable.

Proceeding beyond this, the next stage would be to apply to local council for a bonfire permit/licence. Whether there is even a reasonable chance of this being approved depends heavily upon the make-up of the council. This, in itself, could provide an insurmountable obstacle for bonfire groups within Nationalist dominated Council areas. Even if a Unionist dominated Council was minded to issue a licence, there would still be the issue of ensuring full compliance with all environmental, waste management and health and safety legislation. Once again this brings the applicant back to the first hurdle faced.

Given that step one and two in the process could only be logically passed by diluting the bonfire until it is unrecognisable, this means that to pass these stages would require the eradication of traditional bonfires.

The final stage in the triple-lock system is criminalisation. For bonfires that want to maintain a traditional and well established bonfire they will be open to criminalisation and being brought before the courts due to a failure to apply for a permit. This follows the same process used by the Parades Commission to attack the parading tradition within Northern Ireland.


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