Gavin Robinson: “I don’t think we can leave it for another year … to make sure we manage all of the bonfires in a much better way” … but what can be done?

Gavin Robinson BBC interview about bonfires screengrabSix fire engines and 35 fire crew sprayed cold water on houses and trees facing the East Belfast Chobham Street bonfire to keep them safe from the savage heat and flames on the Eleventh night. Speaking to the BBC today, local MP Gavin Robinson said:

Elected representatives, community representatives, statutory agencies, the police and those of influence with the community – they were all ignored and I think that’s greatly regrettable.

… I don’t think we can leave it for another year. I think there is the need for us to get a collective group together and to make sure we manage all of the bonfires in a much better way.

Credit should be given to Gavin for speaking out. And credit should be given to the numerous agencies who tried to find a solution to the fire risk. However, what action can realistically be taken?

Local councils – to which we elect politicians – run bonfire management schemes. However, not all bonfire builders are willing to adhere to the rules in order to access the funding. (Though these schemes are credited with a general reduction in Fire Service callouts in recent years.)

While it’s hard to ignore the lack of permission from some land owners, the somewhat dubious supply chain of pallets, and the opportunity some businesses take to dump materials (such as tyres and even wallpaper rolls according to one Talkback contributor) … many bonfires and beacons are safe, family-friendly, don’t damage roads, pavements or play parks and avoid burning tyres, flags, political posters or effigies. [Ed – or sex toys – gallery image 4!]

Yet as Gavin Robinson acknowledged, others ignore common sense advice, even from local residents. It doesn’t take a particularly bright spark to know that a Unionist Bonfire Coalition could not be formed to represent all bonfire committees and builders.

If elected political representatives find that their power of persuasion is weak once bonfires are well under construction and out of control, perhaps the only logical step is for them to avoid this late intervention and instead roll their sleeves up months earlier and become involved with the building of bonfires in their council areas and constituencies?

Councils, DRD, DSD, the Police, the Fire Service: none of these organisations want to take action that puts their employees at risk.

Alternatively councillors, MLAs and MPs could state clearly at Easter when bonfire material collection begins that they will support and accompany statutory agencies taking action later in the summer to move unsafe bonfires and keep residents and property safe.

But it doesn’t take a particularly bright spark to know that these ideas are no more realistic than Gavin’s Bonfire Coalition … so if you’ve a better way of applying pyrotechnic common sense, post a comment!

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  • eireanne

    zero tolerance? all along the chain , tyres, pallets etc

  • Lorcs1

    Why don’t the authorities take the same approach that they did with the flag protests? Observe the offences taking place and refer the culprits for prosecution at a later date?

    Going and arresting the culprits a few days after the event would greatly reduce the threat of violence and the risk to the agencies/PSNI staff members.

    Failing to uphold the rule of law due to the threat of violence is vindicating mob rule. If you threaten to riot, you can do what want.

  • *Sigh*

    The problems associated with bonfires are a symptom of division within this society, not a cause.

    If you want to run around trying put out those fires, feel free. But don’t expect any serious energy to be exerted by anyone else in the effort.
    As for Gavin… Let’s form a committee!

    In the meantime, the NI First Minister has let it be known that the Treasury has expressed “formal concern” at the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to agree welfare reform.

  • eireanne

    why the move off topic Pete? Surely the letter from the Treasury deserves a post of its own?
    “bonfires are a symptom of division within this society, not a cause”.
    Are you quite, quite sure of the validity of this statement?
    Or is it more a chicken-and-egg type of situation?
    In any case, surely the way out of the mess is to enforce the law with no “buts” or “ifs”.
    Let’s see if zero tolerance helps –
    If not , it’s just one more failed initiative, among so many. One more year of getting nowhere , like so many before.
    What’s any normal decent citizen got to lose?

  • I’m quite sure of the validity of what I actually said, which was…

    The problems associated with bonfires are a symptom of division within this society, not a cause.

  • eireanne

    what’s the difference between your long quote and my short one? i mean how do the words “The problems associated with” make your statement more valid?

  • Sliothar

    Would that be the same Gavin Robinson who was mysteriously off-radar throughout every single radio and TV debate on this particular bonfire issue prior to its lighting?
    Oh, shame and pity! He might also have missed the fire – and the closing of the houses, the evacuation of the homeowners, the dowsing of the buildings, the destruction of the road surfaces, the pollution of the environment and the total capitulation of unionist political leadership to the forces on the street.

  • Surveyor

    Pete doesn’t countenance any criticism of Loyalist culture on the Slugger website, as his reaction to Darren Litter’s article last week will testify.

  • USA

    *Sigh* This thread is not about welfare reform Pete Baker, it’s about bonfires.

  • Mister_Joe

    How to deal with specific problems? Regulations, fines or jail terms for those who don’t/won’t comply.

  • Granni Trixie

    I did hear him on one radio interview where he seemed to hedge his bets – failed to side with residents in a particular street faced with a huge tower. Alan,you have lost the plot in framing your post in praise for Gavin. Better to have said of him “could do better”.

    As regards solutions, I agree with those who suggest monitoring the construction of bonfires and being prepared to act at an early stage to dismantle. It would also be key to a solution if OO leaders helped change “the biggest bonfire” culture into “the responsible bonfire” culture – letting it be known that the likes of the dangerous what we have seen this year is not what the OO wants.

  • Thomas Barber

    Strangely enough the PSNI and the council dont feel frightened or intimadated either stopping teenagers building illegal bonfires or removing the bonfire material from nationalist areas. It simple, people like Gavin Robinson and the various unionist parties cannot on the one hand lecture the less well off about having to accept Welfare reforms while on the other they encourage a minority of society to flout the law resulting in milllions being spent on clear up costs, compensation and whatever associated costs involved in having fire crews and ambulance services on standby. Its a culture thats increasingly being seen as an excuse for loyalism to give two fingers to everyone who happens not to be a loyalist.

  • Robin Keogh

    Attempts to justify their behaviour by excusing their hatred of their neighbours on the basis that they just can’t help it is pretty pathetic. The unionists involved represent a small but significant section of the unionist community. While thousands of their co-religionists celebrate the twelfth all over Ireland peacefully and repectfully, the reasons behind this socially perverted violence lies in the fact that they know they will never be challenged. Big house unionism has historically leaned on this section of their community to reflect the capacity for violence if and when things do not go their way. Keep them uneducated, misinformed, undernurished and angry as hell, and you have an eager batallion of minions pumped up for action should the need arise.

    While I can understand the existence of some tensions due to the now irreversable freefall in the number of Protestants in the six counties, the reality is that the entire community has opportunities for prosperity that never existed years ago. Young unionists can get a good education, a roof over their head, they have the right to vote and and the same chance of getting a job as their Catholic neighbours. While ‘Ulster’ may no longer be British, it is still a part of the disunited Kingdom and will remain so for the short term ar least.

    In the absense of real leadership from unionism and a failure on the part of the authorities to tackle the problem, not to mention attempts by many to sneakily justify their behaviour; there exists little hope that these poor unfortunates suffering such social exclusion in this divided society will ever find alternative occupations other than pure bloody mayhem.

  • kensei

    You do not need sectarian division to get into an arms race over bigger and bigger bonfires. This is the most likely outcome without proper regulation.

  • IRF

    Since Pete appears to have given carte blanche to change the subject, consider this quote today from Nelson McCausland: “Ten or more years of republican violence at Ardoyne on the Crumlin Road was rewarded by the Parades Commission. I would have to say if it’s wrong to engage in violence, it’s wrong to reward violence.”… But surely the last ten years of Orange parades along the Springfield Road have been a reward for loyalists going batshit when the Parades Commission re-routed Whiterock back in 2005?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well, at least he said something, so hats off in that respect at least, I thought he was going to ignore it altogether.

    So, how about a year or two with faffing around with committees, local groups etc while making it clear (behind the scenes) that the days of tolerance for such things are numbered, after that it’s on the spot fines for those ‘dumping’ and fly-tipping, burning noxious materials, trespassing on public ground etc (or whatever the law can muster).

    I believe someone in Mid-Ulster was done for ‘fly-tipping’, maybe that could act as a precedent?

  • Skibo

    Answer is simple, enforce the laws that are on the statutes and it will not take long for people to toe the line. Enforcement has always been the simplest way.
    On top of this legislation should be put in place to license bonfires, all bonfires. legislation should include a requirement for public liability insurance, a fire risk assessment.
    Everything has to allow for safety and method statements/ risk assessments are common thing now.
    Fair play to Gavin Robinson for speaking out and also mentioning items burned on the bonfires. Hopefully this will be the start of a new attitude to these things. As usual he could do with a phone call to Gregory Campbell who finds it impossible to condemn these same things.

  • Skibo

    Sliothar if you do not give credit where it is due then do not expect anything to change. He stood up and spoke out, I think one of maybe two who have done it. More than last year and if not respected then less than next year.
    We can sit back and watch for what he helps set up in the next six months to make sure it is better next year. If nothing then obviously he is an empty vessel incapable of change.

  • chrisjones2

    Its great to seethe local MP showing such leadership on this ……but pity it wasn’t last week before the event and scandalous waste of public money. Still I suppose he was busy pressing his marching suit

    And aren’t they due to start building new houses on this site soon? So will the problem not solve itself?

  • Zig70

    The big sore point for me is the paramilitary flags. I’d expect anyone who looks for respect and common sense to prevail over the twelfth to see the flags as a starting point. After all, what do they represent? To me, that the communities are subjected to paramilitary influence. How can you then turn round and ask for legal sensibilities to be applied in that scenario? A bit much to expect kids to act responsibly with that elephant trundling around. I would have thought the ‘Christian’ thing would be to refuse to march under them, make a stand.

  • Thomas Barber

    Funny enough once again the PSNI dont feel unable to act when it comes to nationalists or republicans who they feel is interfering with a lamppost in nationalist areas. It seems the law applies only to one section of the community.–142028/

    ” A member of Republican Network for Unity (RNU) has been arrested for
    “interfering with a lamppost” while erecting a suicide awareness poster.
    Sinn Fein Policing Board member Pat Sheehan is demanding to know why
    this offence, if it exists, does not apply to loyalists putting up

  • chrisjones2

    “Keep them uneducated, misinformed, undernurished and angry as hell, and you have an eager batallion of minions pumped up for action should the need arise.”

    Did you just cut and paste that out of the SF Handbook?

    As for “While ‘Ulster’ may no longer be British” you may wish to ask Gerry who pays the Benefits and Wages of his MLAs.

    I am afraid to say that the rest is just racist trolling on your part.

  • Sliothar

    I’m sorry, Skibo, if GR deserved credit, I would have been the first to voice my support. In the event, only Michael Long of Alliance spoke up loudly – and bravely, might I add. All Unionist politicians either ran for cover or, as Granni noted above, ‘hedged their bets’ – or, for the most part and disgracefully so, went to ground. The main and, it seemed only, spokesman for the PUL community over this last week was Jim Wilson who went into MOPEr overdrive and blamed everyone but his own community for the dangers to people and property.
    GR is just another example of a unionist politician surfacing when the danger is over, the infrastructure of his own constituency is damaged, then starts to wring his hands and plead that ‘Something must be done’. So, what does he advocate? A ‘collective group’! In other words, kick it into touch…
    Perhaps the much-vaunted ‘graduated response’ has fallen on deaf ears?

  • smcgiff

    It’s me culture, boss.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Play park

  • Alan N/Ards

    Totally agree. The OO ( in urban areas) seem to be unable of acting in a Christian manner. You would have to be blind and deaf to miss it. The difference between them and the rural OO is vast.
    A perfect example of this is the way they march past St. Patricks Church. The single drum beat ( which is required by law) is played aggressively by the drummers. They only need to have one drummer beating time, yet the whole drum core (including bass drum) beat it out as if it needs to be heard 100 miles away. Also, the behaviour of Finaghy True Blues in playing a hymn in such an aggressive way was pathetic, and shameful. That was nothing to do with Christianity! The local Priest (whose name I can’t recall) showed more Christianity by allowing a bandsmen into his house to use his facilities. Once again, the urban OO brings shame on the rural members, who seem to be able to parade in a respectful manner. Maybe it’s time for the rural members to stand up and say, enough is enough.

  • kalista63

    As many posted on Twitter, Gavin’s words were too little too late.

    Then there’s the PUP. What the hell where they up to. As Allison Morris said today, they were tweeting about how great they are because “they got the size of the bonfire reduced’ but this is while Allison and others were watching the fire being added to.

  • murdockp

    There are two issues for me is who makes the decision when a bonfire is no longer a bonfire. And why do our law enforcement agencies both PSNI and Civil Service refuse to do their jobs? It does not happen anywhere else in the UK.

    The following is a list of the laws that will be broken in the weeks leading up to and including 11th night for the majority of ‘supersized’ bonfires in Northern Ireland.

    The Clean Air (NI) Order 1981 (this prohibits the emission of dark smoke from industrial or trade premises or other premises which waste originating from trade source is burned. Every reasonable person will agree that pallets and tyres and other materials that are burnt on a bonfire are from a trade source.

    The Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878 (where a statutory nuisance is caused by smoke from a person who’s act default of sufferance the nuisance occurs

    The Litter (NI) Order 1994 (the gathering of materials to be burned)

    The Waste and Contaminated Land (NI) order 1997 (the dumping of controlled waste on any land)

    The Duty of Care Regulations (NI) 2002 (companies who allow their waste to end up on a bonfire site)

    The Roads (NI) Order 1993 (Nuisances near roads)

    The Theft Act (Northern Ireland ) 1969 (the stealing of blue Pallets and other materials which are the property of pallet distribution companies)

    Criminal Damage (NI) Order 1997 (damage to sites, buildings and the burning of stolen materials)

    Many of these laws are the responsibility by the Civil Service and police, but in the weeks leading up to and including bonfire night, nothing will be done as the government agencies refuse to apply the law and instead ‘cross their fingers and pray’ they get through this difficult period without incident.

    What I find surprising as I conducted my own research was discovering a report commissioned by the NI Assembly, which states on page 22 that ‘all bonfires could be considered to be illegal’ this comes as no surprise to ordinary people like myself as it is obvious that these enormous fires are just plain wrong in 2015.
    I accept there is a cultural right to have Bonfires, but this right does not extend to our law enforcement agencies turning a ‘blind eye’ to them just because enforcing the law is too difficult due to the highly probable civil disobedience that would follow the banning of a bonfire or arrest of key individuals involved in the construction and lighting of bonfires.
    My personal view is we need to look at how the UK agencies faced up to Bonfire night on November 05 in the UK. thirty years ago the local communities would have built large fires which also were dangerous and environmentally damaging and illegal. Now thirty years on it is a family celebration event dominated by fireworks. This has to be the way to go.
    The thread I picked up on here was the sense of belonging and community and pride felt by the ‘Boney’ builders. This I get. The bit I don’t get is they put all this effort into building something that is to be burned. This seems such a waste of effort.
    Why don’t the community leaders seize onto the fact that the youth in their community can achieve significant positive things. Lets face it, one has to have skills of supply chain, project management, leadership, teamwork, construction, determination to construct bonfires on this scale. They are impressive structures.
    How about turning all this effort in undertaking a communal project every year such a constructing a community centre from scratch with the materials supplied the surrounding community businesses and built by the community for the community with the completion date being 11th night with fireworks and a smaller beacon for celebration. A project like this should give the young real pride and sense of being in the community and respect.
    It seems to me as an outsider that putting so much effort into something that will be burned is such a waste for the community in the long term.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    It’s a real shame the MP for the constituency couldn’t bring it upon himself to comment while there was an opportunity to actually do something about it.

    Who wants to bet that his call for something to be done will amount to nothing ?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Strangely enough the PSNI and the council dont feel frightened or intimadated either stopping teenagers building illegal bonfires or removing the bonfire material from nationalist areas

    Wrong. The “Divis Hoods” have been building an unwanted bonfire near the flats for the past number of years, unwanted by the community but unopposed by the PSNI.

    Also the bonfire was condemned by Paul Maskey.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Everyone in the PUP appears to be free to make everything up as they go along.

  • murdockp

    I do agree with one point you touch on, is that it is not in the DUP electoral interest to pull these people from the poverty and economic disadvantage they live in as they provide a ready made majority.The same for SF in West Belfast.

    The biggest danger to SF /DUP is education and provision of opportunity to their communities.. This is what the rest of the government should be focusing on delivering.

  • kalista63

    The bonfires are a symptom of unionist politicians who are playing the same old cards (40,000 leaflets, if you prefer) that they’ve been playing for over a century. A prime exampe was Nelson Mccausland on the radio today blaming last night’s rioting on nationalists, feeding the blatant lies that emboldens someone to drive their car over 2 women.

    As pointed out below, Paul Maskey and other republicans & nationalists take on the bonfire thugs, unionists don’t do it all or wait untill its too late.

  • Thomas Barber

    Perhaps you never saw the bonfire material being taken away in council lorries protected by PSNI officers last year.

    Or the year before in the New Lodge area,

  • PeterBrown

    First of all let me state that I am have my own issues with bonfires – we are arguably the nearest house to our local bonfire and as well as the night itself (noise & heat) there is the build up (now down to c 1 week) of the builders overnight work including all night football, music, chat and fires which this year included tyres which have resulted in our gardens becoming unusable until the next significant rain hopefully washes away the tyre ash which has turned our previously brown dog black.
    Having said all that and while I agree with much of the tone of what is said above murdockp there is in fact little stick that can be applied to bonfire organisers. To deal with the laws one by one the 1981 Order as you state yourself is for commercial undertakings not bonfires so lets put it to one side, the 1878 Act is virtually obsolete certainly as far as this type of problem is concerned, the Litter Order targets the land occupier or owner, as do the 1997 & 2002 Orders. The Roads order is a stretch and again targets land owners and occupiers and the criminal law assumes the bonfire material has been stolen and the owners have made a complaint. In any event in order to apply the stick there has to be someone identified to apply it to and certainly in both the bonfires in my area as explained elsewhere on this site there is no individual never mind a committee to prosecute / pursue so even if there was no specific legislation and no petition of concern who would be the defendant? Local councils have tried the carrot approach ( I remember importing the Good Bonfire Scheme to Ballymena from Carrick & Lisburn when on the council via CPLCs) but if the carrot is not deemed adequate for the organisers to stick their head above the parapet then they didn’t bother or frankly being largely made up of pre teens were unaware of the scheme anyway. They are often genuinely impossible to identify….
    On the assumption that bonfires are not per se illegal (otherwise many gardeners will be in trouble every autumn as are the organisers of Up Helly Aa and the Stonehaven Fire Festival) but that certain aspects of current 11th night bonfires are (such as on street and in some cases under age drinking, burning of tyres and of items possibly stolen and then burned to cause offence) then what can be done.
    I think it could / should be possible for the vast majority of these events to be made family friendly and dare I say it potentially inclusive or at least much less intimidating but the question is how – I have sympathy with all public representatives on the issue because when I was one of them I wrestled with it generally and in some cases specifically and it was not easy….

  • Briso
  • peepoday

    The trouble related to the siting of bonefires is difficult in urban areas where there is a lack of space.Gavin Robinson or any collective group cannot create such space.Many in the unionist community have lost faith in their political leaders,who promise and don’t deliver,for example the graduated response to parading difficulties.Another committee or working group on bonefires would be a talking shop.

  • babyface finlayson

    Some illnesses are very difficult to treat. In such cases it makes sense to alleviate the symptoms in order to give the patient (that’s us) some relief.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Interesting that you mention Welfare, when, i would guess, the folks building the “bonefires” are some of the biggest Welfare recipients, both in terms of receiving handouts and in costing the tax payers a fortune in cleaning up after them. But hey, its their human and cultural rights…..

  • Sergiogiorgio

    You are right, unfortunately SF/DUP are the government. The rest don’t matter within the confines of Stormont.

  • Reader

    Thomas Barber: Strangely enough the PSNI and the council dont feel frightened or intimadated either stopping teenagers building illegal bonfires or removing the bonfire material from nationalist areas.
    So, in this respect at least, nationalist communities are better served by the PSNI than unionist communities. You must be so pleased.

  • Kev Hughes

    I suspect he is Reader. When the local nationalist community said it did not support the bonfire and its leaders stood up and also said that it didn’t want it then it would appear that the PSNI stepped in and worked with the community to bring this to a halt. It’s in stark contrast to unionist pols and ‘community’ leaders of course…