Money to Burn: Rates spent on bonfire pallets scandal

The Irish News ran a front page story on Saturday in which it was revealed that Antrim Borough Council had breached its own guidelines for successive years in order to fund the purchase of pallets for loyalist bonfires to the tune of more than £6,300 across the borough in 2013 and 2014.

The story featured on today’s BBC Radio Ulster Nolan Show, when UUP Councillor Drew Ritchie defended the expenditure as “money well spent” on “a traditional part of any bonfire”- even though the Council had stated it was “made in error.”

The full list of items funded is quite revealing, and includes thousands of pounds given to loyalist flute bands to apparently play music at the bonfires, as well as a remarkable £650 spent on a facepainter in Monkstown in 2014- in spite of every other bonfire, including Monkstown the previous year, paying out in between £100 and £300 on facepainting…….

Of the 14 Newtownabbey bonfires receiving funding over the two years, only Rathfern appears to have secured insurance- in both years.

The final caller to the Nolan Show this morning asked the right question: Do the bonfire builders have any receipts for the pallets bought?


These revelations once again illustrate why the SDLP Minister Mark H Durkan is entirely correct to pursue the option of licensing all bonfires in future years.

Anyway, as the person who asked the FOI question from Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, I am in a position to provide Slugger readers with the full list of items declared as being purchased with ratepayers’ money.


Antrim 2013/2014

Bonfire Expenditure for Balloo Community Association in 2013 and 2014
Sun umbrella£6.99Sweets/crisps£26.79
Lighting£19.06Tablecloth/ straws£3.00
Table/Chairs/BBQ items£67.00Petrol£20.00
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£365.00Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£716.00
Hire of vehicle to build bonfire – inc wood & fuel£930.00Face painting£210.00
Burgers/chips/soft drinks£460.00DJ£350.00
Face painting£60.00Kids party bags£11.00
DJ£300.00Burgers/chips/soft drinks£500.00
Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00Hire of 5 bouncy castles£700.00
Hire of 4 walkabout charcters£160.00
Bonfire Expediture for Ladyhill & Tannaghmore Rural Development Group in 2013 and 2014
Hire of 3 bouncy castles & 3 mascot costumes£850.00Hire of bouncy castles£1,500.00
Flute band playing at festival & bonfire for 2 hours£300.00Flute band playing at festival & bonfire£300
2nd flute band playing at fun night£300.00Hire of PA system & gazebos£210.00
Crowd control barriers/hazard warning lights/2 way radios£270Crowd control barriers/hazard warning lights/2 way radios£270.00
Hire of lambeg drummers£250.00Hire of lambeg drummers£162.27
Hire of 2 generators/lighting and staging unit£285.00Hire of 2 generators/lighting and staging unit£285.00
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£669.00
Event insurance£76.00
Bonfire Expenditure for Muckamore Parish Development Group in 2013 and 2014
No payments as they did not participateKids party packs with flags/whistles/party hats/streamers etc£740.00
Hire of 6 bouncy castles£1,500.00
Bonfire expenditure for Neillsbrook Community Development Group in 2013 and 2014
Fireworks display£2,300.00Fireworks display£2,400.00
Flute band playing at bonfire event£200.00Flute band playing at bonfire event£300.00
Event insurance£500.00Safety barrier tape£6.85
Bonfire Expenditure for Townparks Festival Group in 2013 and 2014
Disco and Karaoke£280.00Disco£300.00
Face painting£70.00Sweets/crisps/soft drinks£127.27
Hire of bouncy castles/rodeo bull & quads2300.00Hire of bouncy castles/rodeo bull & quads£2,300.00
Magic show and balloon modelling£145.00
Soft drinks/sweets/crispd£205.00
Bonfire Expenditure for Newpark & Caulside Community Association in 2013 and 2014
Sweets/crisps/soft drinks£117.09Face painting and 2 walkabout characters£125.00
Briquettes & lighter fuel for BBQ£34.90BG Disco and karaoke£350.00
BBQ food provided and cooked£750.00BBQ food provided and cooked£750.00
Black plastic for waterslide£36.00Napkins£2.27
Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00Hire of bouncy castles/rodeo bull/quad bikes£1,500.00
DJ on 11th July£300.00
Face painting£220.00
DJ at Orangefest Musical evening & supper£300.00
Flute band playing at bonfire event£300.00
Orangefest Supper£179.62
Bonfire Expenditure for Parkhall Upper Community Association in 2013 and 2014
Ice lollies£11.05DJ£200
Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00
Face painters and balloon modelling£220.00Sweets/crisps/soft drinks£82.60
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£750.00Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£650.00
Pallets for bonfire£800.00Pallets for bonfire£1,000.00
Flute band playing at bonfire event£300.00
Bonfire Expenditure for Steeple Festival Group in 2013 and 2014
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£750.00Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£650.00
Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00
Pallets for bonfire£1,500.00Pallets for bonfire£1,227.27
Flute band playing at bonfire event£100.00
Bonfire Expenditure for Stiles Cultural Group in 2013 and 2014
Pallets for bonfire£1,000.00Pallets for bonfire£827.27
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£750.00Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£650.00
Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00Catering van (burgers)£500.00
BBQ supplies – salad/baps/sauce/charcoal£148.87Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00
BBQ food – butchers£200.00
Hire of Stiles Community Centre£81.50
Soft drinks/crisps/sweets£69.63
Bonfire Expenditure for Parkhall Community Association in 2013 and 2014
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£750.00Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£650.00
Orange Fest Events 2013£2,250.00Hire of bouncy castles£1,060.14
BBQ items/sweets/choc/soft drinls£408.87
Fancy dress outfits£308.26
Flute band playing at bonfire event£100.00
Bonfire Expenditure for Steeple Cultural & Heritage Society in 2013 and 2014
Steeple Cultural & Heritage Society had a joint bonfire with Parkhall Community Association on 11th July 2014.
The bonfire was held at the Steeple Cultural & Heritage Society site
Hire of 4 bouncy castles£750.00Marquee hire£1,600.00
Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£750.00Carnival decorations – flags/hats/whistles etc given to children£650.00
Marquee hire£1,200.00Flute band playing at event£400
Orchestra performance£300.00DJ£77.27

2014 Newtownabbey

InflatablesFace PaintersDJ/DiscoEntertainmentHospitalityInsuranceClimbing Wall / GamesTransportDecorations / Medals / Prizes / Materials / Room Hire
Abbeytown Sq£800.00£200.00£225.00£175.00£600.00£2,000.00


2013 Newtownabbey

InflatablesFace PaintersDJ/DiscoEntertainmentHospitalityInsuranceClimbing Wall / GamesTransportDecorations / Medals / Prizes / Materials / Room Hire
Abbeytown Sq£800.00£300.00£300.00£127.00£470.00£1,997.00
  • murdockp

    What sort of society do we live in where people expect the state to pay for party food for their kids. Are these people (and republicans too) capable of doing anything without the support of the state ?

  • Mister_Joe

    There’s a very bad smell emanating (to quote another blog).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I’m jacking in my job to become a face-painter.

  • chrisjones2

    This is what happens when you elect donkeys wrapped in flegs

  • Dan

    Scandalous waste of public money.
    Just add it to millions frittered away on similar shite every year by politicians in NI.

  • Gopher

    Nope, but you can include every sector of NI culture (sic) from the Orchestra to Events.I would love to have the tendering process for Bouncy Castles or
    “inflatables” as they are called explained. I think the time has come to ticket
    Bonfires and rely on reciepts or sponsership rather than the ratepayer. Whilst the Bonfire expenses are a shocking waste its drop in the ocean stuff and more transparent compared to the huge wages and expenses thrown around up the social ladder. Its time to look under every rock and cut to the bone.

  • Nevin

    Maybe not a million, Dan, but the Arts Council of Northern Ireland sponsored an £100,000 artistic bonfire in Derry-Londonderry. The city council may also have incurred expense.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thanks for highlighting this Chris

  • Reader

    It looks like they had a budget of £3000 for each town event, and £2000 for each Newtownabbey event and mostly spent up to the budget. No surprise there, then. It’s possible that itemising the spend was a bit of an afterthought, though I would be prepared to accept reassurance on that point.
    I suppose buying the pallets kept the licensed bonfires cleaner than they might have been. Still, I wouldn’t want my rates money spent on events while money is tight.
    What is the feeling about facepainting, DJs, Bouncy castles, buns and carnival decoration? Should councils be forbidden altogether from spending on such stuff, or should such frivolous spend be run past an Equality Impact Assessment, to make sure Themmuns get no more than Ussuns?

  • Dan

    Mr Donnelly will look the other way

  • Brian O’Neill

    The bouncy castle costs are rather inflated. I’ll get me coat…

  • Brian O’Neill

    Putting aside the sectarian and environmental damage (which are massive issues with bonfires). No one complains when we spend millions on stuff for the middle classes in NI.

    The 12th is the highlight of the year in loyalist areas. The councils do these things to try to make the events more ‘family friendly’.

    I personally think the council initiatives should be encouraged. Compared with policing costs they are a bargain. Yes some money will be flowing into dodgy hands but as we have seen with the NAMA revelations it is small beer compared with how the elite in our society screw us all over.

  • Zeno

    I see where you are coming from, but what is the purpose of Bonfires? What are they supposed to be celebrating? A lot of them seem to offer little more than an opportunity to coat trail and hate Catholics. Burning flags and images is just sectarian goading.
    The money is next to nothing when we are spending 400k on a road to nowhere improvements and 90k per SPAD. People being outraged about a few thousand pounds is a bit ridiculous.

  • Thomas Barber

    “The 12th is the highlight of the year in loyalist areas. The councils do
    these things to try to make the events more ‘family friendly’.

    They’re certainly not “Family friendly” to all those nationalist ratepayers who would Im sure be told in the bluntest of terms to f… off if they dared to ask for Council grants to buy pallets for internment bonfires. But like you said value for money is value for money so lets expand the scheme into nationalist areas too and we’ll all have a great laugh destroying the environment together and sure we’ll not worry about the clean up costs the council will cover the costs too. Its a win win for everyone who loves to burn money who cares if the money falls into the hands of those who promote division and sectarianism sure its a bargain keeping them busy for a few nights.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Zeno, the fires remember a period of history in which conspicuous disloyalty to a singularly decent king (rare at any time, decency I mean) attempting to develop a genuine freedom of worship and opportunity of state appointment for ALL his subjects alongside a sizeable group of supporters made up of all religions marks what is being celebrated. This misguided support of the Dutchman ensured both than dissenters also lost their civic freedoms gained under James alongside the suppression of Catholic emancipation and that our little community would accordingly become and stay a highly polarised society. Not a lot to be celebrating, really.

  • Sharpie

    Fair enough. I wonder what the total cost is across NI if you tot up all the towns and villages and estates. It has to be several hundred thousand. I’m ambivalent on bonfires, if they are only burning wood and are without hate crime accessories then they are totally inoffensive to me. If they are made very safe (inside beacons) then there is no fun – in the build up or the experience. given that they are extremely polluting and are used for hate crimes, they have to be regulated and managed out of existence. As with all of these types of issues – its about enforcement. The enforcement of rules that protect the common good are way to lenient compared to those which protect individuals.

    It seems that engagement to reduce environmental and sectarian impact has been on-going for years and it would be great to know if there is headway.

    With a licensing regime insurance should be in place and legal owners of responsibility clearly identified.

  • Greenflag 2

    There ‘s always a bad smell as well as toxic fumes from burning tyres . Gotta hope the bouncy castles never catch fire .

  • Janos Bingham

    Scandalous use of public money, yet not the only example that could be cited about the cash thrown at the ‘community’ sector. From funding ‘community workers’ (who all seem to have a particular ‘CV” depending on the specific ‘working class communities’ they operate in) to paying out for ‘cultural’ events that most often promote a partisan agenda.

    I can’t see much happening to change things anytime soon (much like the Irish News ‘newspaper’ passing on an opportunity to have a go at themuns). It’s just another example of the public being expected to pay for the lifestyles of peaceprocessors – with another cash bid in the same vein due later today I believe.

  • 23×7

    Is this post a joke? Don’t turn this into a class issue. There are plenty of working class folk who despise this annual environmental and social disaster.

    I also look forward to you outlining what the middle class “stuff” includes. I can’t think of anything.

  • Lorcs1

    To remove the questions around the legitimacy of the spending, how about the council procure and supply bouncy castles, face painters, etc. obviously the same would apply to all community related council-funded events.

  • 23×7

    Slightly different. On one hand we are sponsoring a hate filled environmental disaster and on the other a cross community arts event.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m with you most of the way Brian except for the money for pallets bit. Whatever happened to the ‘tradition’ of building yer own bone fire with leftovers?

  • Granni Trixie

    Reader you have put your finger on a good point re itemising the spend. Some charities insist on detailed costs being submitted before awarding a grant.

  • Greenflag 2

    The Janus face syndrome of NI yet again . Gotta look both ways otherwise you’ll you’ll fall flat on your faeces yet again .

  • Greenflag 2

    I note there was no expense incurred on building a moat or moats . Both parties at Westminster would be appalled at any attempt to ape their expenses scandal of a couple of years ago . .

  • congal claen

    To put into perspective…
    “around £80 million a year is lost in uncollected revenue due to illicit fuel in Northern Ireland, with around the same lost due to illegal cigarettes.” Mike Parkinson, HMRC.
    Then there’s also the environmental damage and health costs on top.

  • James7e

    Certainly the average ‘industrial’ wage earned by the smugglers must be handsome indeed. At everyone else’s expense.

  • murdockp

    My bugbear in NI is the toleration of criminal acts and the constant fear of the loyalist and republican mas riots..e.g. Environmental damage is a criminal act, there is a custodial sentence in the rest of the UK for such behaviour but in NI environmental damage is ‘tolerated’
    It seems to me we have a police force that arrests and polices ‘normal people’ these could be middle class and could be working glass, but the one thing bot groups has is respect for the law.
    The rest is a feral group who are literally unpolicable, which given the riots and shootings and criminality they are responsible for bonfires are literally a minor issue for the police.
    Speeding tickers for housewives in 4 x 4’s full of kids or an environmental prosecution for Loyalists bonfire builders? A easy one for a PSNI office only interested in collecting £35k a year without too much fuss.

  • murdockp

    And this is wrong too.

  • congal claen

    Hi Sean,
    Not sure he was as great as you say. Although, hard to distinguish fact from propaganda at the time – the bedpan for example. I thought he wasn’t too keen on the Covenanters and gave them a fairly hard time. He also replaced quite a few prods with Catholics in positions of power – having said that I’m sure that happened the other way round too.
    His 2nd wife was a child when he married her as he turned 40…

  • aquifer

    Maybe this is better than burning van tyres at £2 each or stealing the pallets?

    Suspiciously round figures though.

    Let’s see scans of the receipts, – or those beer bellies.

  • kalista63

    Yep. I’m recent years we’ve had callers to local radio who are from loyalist estates, whatever they are, who object to the bonfires but are too afraid to identify themselves or complain directly to loyalist organisations. When these debates happen, wen have the childish Phil Hamilton or Winkie saying that these people should come to them about their issues in a completely snide way.

    We’ve now got to the state where power lines have to be taken down, people’s windows boarded up and this year, houses evacuated. Who’s attacking ordinary unionsists ts and Loyalists?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Conegal, yes the Covenanters! Ho humm. They were the Taliban/Islamic State of their day, and all this freedom of worship they demanded actually only applied to them. If they had their way, every other faith would have been entirely suppressed. They were the hard core extremists of a much broader Presbyterianism, but perhaps the response of a representative group of English Presbyterians to James’s Declaration of Indulgence might show how most non-violent Presbyterians responded at the time to the offer of freedom from the Test Act, and the owning of public office to their faith:

    The Covenantors were of course utterly irreconcilable but then they wanted total control of the state to enforce their own beliefs, or, failing that, martyrdom.

    “His 2nd wife was a child when he married her as he turned 40…”

    She was fifteen, a normal age for marriage at that time and even, as I remember, in the Ireland of the 1960s I grew up in. Wikipedia tells me that the Catholic Church still considers the age for valid female consent to a marriage at 14, although higher ages have been set in most countries by National episcopal conferences decisions. While I’m on record on other threads regarding sexual abuse, it is very important not to imply seriously anachronistic judgements of this sort on seventeenth century customs. James may have been an advanced thinker regarding toleration and civil liberty, but in many other ways he was a man of his time and must be judged in the light of his periods other conventions.

    For considerable detail on James’s toleration policies Scott Sowerby’s “Making Toleration” is a hearty corrective to the old inaccurate historical assessments you seem to have read from your comments. I quote from the book’s write up:

    ” ‘Making Toleration’ also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.”

    Sowerby goes as far as to describe the movement James instigated as defining the modern concept of toleration. If you read “Ireland and the Jacobite Cause” by Éamonn Ó Ciardha you get a decent picture of what actually went on in Ireland before and after the Boyne, by a first rate researcher. Ó Ciardha’s mentor Breandán Ó Buachalla’s magisterial “Aisling Ghéar” offers a panoramic picture of Jacobite Ireland as seen through its intelligensia, and shows just how few poems of the eighteenth century use sentiments such as “Séamas an Chaca” (about two hundred against several hundred thousand produced that supported the Stuarts).

    The replacement of “Prods in power” was a long overdue balancing of the monopoly given to Anglicanism, and went some way to right the terrible suppression of the old Catholic communities access to power, effected in the interregnum and confirmed to a great degree by the Act of Settlement in the Restoration period. But notably it concerned what might have been described as anti-James “Old Oliverians”. While researching my own work on the period I discovered a soldier of the Wild Geese, a veteran of the Battle of Newtownbutler, retiring with wounds in 1711 after Malplaquet and being turned away from L’Hôtel des Invalides because he was a Presbyterian. He was one amongst what may have been many.

    We have had three centuries of focused historical calumny against James, so I can hardly blame you for repeating the common assessments of the man, but a great deal of recent research is reviling him to be arguably one of the most important figures in the evolution of the modern concept of human rights. He was thought of but most people before the Whig Revolution as an honest bluff soldier, his straightforwardness something of a relief after his Machiavellian brother’s twists and turns. From some fifteen years research in archives reading his letters and the assessments of contemporaries, I’ve found James to be a decent, thoughtful man driven to treat all his subjects of whatever religion equally by a strong sense of justice. But for a detailed description of this assessment you will have to wait for my book.

  • congal claen

    Hi Sean,
    I think I’ll bow to your greater knowledge of the man!
    Do you think it’s possible that his tolerance may have been slightly influenced by necessity – he was a king in a country not long since Republican and a Catholic in a majority Prod country?

  • submariner

    Make sure you can spell KAT correctly first.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While that has been suggested by a number of historians, it does not fit with either the mans character or practical political wisdom at the time. When you read his letters, etc, you get an impress of someone who has had a genuine epiphany regarding toleration. And the very easiest path to a secure throne would have been to support the Anglicans who rose as a man to support him against Monmouth in 1685 (including our own Sir Arthur Rawdon of “Break of Dromore” fame). No, if James wanted an easy life the Anglicans had signalled support so long as he maintained their monopoly of power. He took them on out of genuine idealism, but don’t take my word for it, check out Scott Sowerby’s excellent research which has saved me about two thousand words of explanation in my own book!

    By James’s time the “Good Old Cause” of Republicanism was dying on its feet, and James’s brother had broken its strongest supporters and their clubs after the Rye house plot. Many were in Holland and contributed strongly to William’s success by offering what remained of their networks to him during his invasion. Predictably, even under William’s favour, they turned on him in succeeding years, as did most of those others who had invited William over. Not what you hear from the “Our Island Story” valorisation of what is in essence an invasion by the national enemy of over forty years supported by self-interested Quislings. “Glorious”…………not when scrutinised.