Calls mount for axing of all bonfires

Calls mount for axing of all bonfires

11 April 2011

CALLS for traditional bonfires to be abandoned in Down District have followed a Halloween of assaults, injuries and illegal dumping.
Shortly after 12.30am on Monday evening an Ambulance Service crew member called to a bonfire at Marian Park in Downpatrick was assaulted by a woman who suffered burns after falling into the bonfire.
The woman suffered burns to her face and hands but refused to travel to hospital, although her injuries are not understood to be serious. A police presence was requested in the area shortly afterwards and the situation calmed.
High levels of illegal dumping at the Knocknashinna bonfire in Downpatrick have been blighting The Green beside the children's playpark and angering residents, with metal, tyres and furniture among the toxic materials being dumped.
John McPoland, from the Ambulance Service, said the incident at Marian Park was hard to comprehend on what was a very busy night for the service.
"The woman refused to travel to hospital but not before she felt it right to assault the crew who came to her aid," he said "It is hard to believe.
"We need our crew to be free to carry out their work for the people who need some kind of help in the first instance. We need our crews free to respond to other calls."
Mr. McPoland said ambulance crews dealt with 279 calls between 8pm on Monday and 6am on Tuesday morning across Northern Ireland, which was nearly double the amount of calls they would expect to be attending.
Councillor Billy Walker, chairman of the local Community Safety Partnership's Bonfire Liaison Committee, said it was time for all bonfires in the district to be replaced by the safer and more environmentally friendly bonfire beacons, which were in operation this year in Crossgar, Ballynahinch, Killough and Ardglass.
"Someone fell into a bonfire this year and thank God they were not seriously hurt," he said. "However, I hope anybody who assaults emergency services out trying to do their job is brought before the courts and dealt with in the most severe way. This cannot be allowed to continue.
"All bonfires replaced by bonfire beacons is essentially what we want to see across the district. You cannot put a price on safety.
"Also at Langley Road this year, for instance, they did not have a bonfire and had a Halloween party instead, supported by the Community Safety Partnership. Ballykine Rural Association also organised their own fireworks."
Downpatrick councillor Liam Johnston agreed that "the time for bonfires is gone".
"The damage they cause and the cost of the clean up is equal to the cost, if not more, than the cost of the bonfire beacons," he said.
"At Knocknashinna, for instance, people have been driving up, opening their cars and dumping all sorts of stuff for the bonfire. It's totally illegal - tyres, broken up bits of furniture, cuttings from hedges.
"The council and Housing Executive have been out in the district trying to deal with it, and I am appealing for the people responsible for the illegal dumping to stop it. The amenity site nearby is open five days a week.
"Next year there will be a large new play park at that site in Knocknashinna, which I hope will address the issue."
Aside from the Halloween period, a spokeswoman for Down Council said they did not receive reports of illegal dumping on this site at any other time of the year.
"Such bonfires are not safe and can cause substantial damage to the local area," she said. "Down District Council would appeal to the residents of Knocknashinna to join forces with the Down District Community Safety Partnership to provide an alternative safe bonfire beacon in future years.
"Bonfires are an important aspect of community celebration and tradition, however there is increasing public concern regarding the environmental and social impact of bonfires."