The DUP, UUP and PUP groups on Belfast City Council launched the Towards a Respectful Future document this morning in Belfast City Hall. The Councillors present were Lee Reynolds, John Kyle, Billy Hutchinson, George Dorrian and Jim Rodgers.
The full report is available here but some of the key findings were
•The vast majority of bonfires and associated activities are well organised and managed. These include events which are part of and separate from the Belfast City Council Bonfire and Cultural Expression Programme.
•The vast majority of bonfires across Belfast are not contentious and attract wide support from the community.
•A small number have raised concerns, primarily in respect to health and safety concerns, anti social behaviour and sectarian or racist graffiti.
•Many participants believe there is a concerted campaign against traditional Unionist celebrations, including bonfires. This feeds into a sense of alienation.
•There is a feeling among some that the ethos of encouraging young people to go ‘collecting for the bonfire’ is being lost as bigger fires come to dominate the landscape, often built using heavy machinery
•While significant efforts have been made to tackle the scourge of fly tipping and tyres it remains a problem and effectively undermines the bonfire tradition in the eyes of many.
•The playing of dance music is not attractive to many in the Unionist community, who feel it takes away from the cultural expression. However a significant number approve as they feel it feeds into the atmosphere on the night.
•Views differed on the presence of alcohol. While many believed it was acceptable among adults, there were serious concerns about underage drinking. There was also a feeling among some in the community that many would find alcohol free events more attractive.
Afterwards I asked the councillors was this not merely another incarnation of the old Unionist Forum style approach which normally achieves little? They responded saying that cooperation between the parties is what people wanted when they were asked and that there is effective cooperation between the parties already within the Council. I was told that it would be better not to view this in the same way as the previous forum, but as a different imitative.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs