'It's time to ban the bonfires'

'It's time to ban the bonfires'
Bonfire Night has traditionally attracted anti-social behaviour and illegal fires

BAN Bonna Night — that’s the plea from a former Lord Mayor of Cork, who says the tradition of lighting public fires is outdated and needs to go.

Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary criticised City Hall for sending ‘contradictory’ messages by hosting its own ‘family-fun’ bonfires while clamping down on illegal fires.

Tonight is St John’s Eve, a night marked by bonfires throughout Cork city. The tradition is also practised in Spain and Scandinavia but in few other places in Ireland.

The night has become a magnet for anti-social behaviour in recent times and is typically the busiest night of the year for fire services.

In a bid to ease this pressure, City Hall organises its own family-friendly fire events in city parks, but Mr O’Leary said the practice should end.

“How can we tell people not to go out and burn materials when that is exactly what we do?” he said. “It is a contradiction. You can’t just openly light fires in public areas.”

The Sinn Féin councillor said 2009 Waste Management Regulations prohibit the lighting of fires in public spaces, while the Stockholm Convention, which the Irish government has signed up to, restricts the release of ‘persistent organic pollutants’, including those found in wooden pallets and timber.

A City Council sanctioned Bonfire in Togher in 2016Pic Darragh Kane
A City Council sanctioned Bonfire in Togher in 2016Pic Darragh Kane

Under the convention, local authorities are required to enforce the restrictions at a local level. Mr O’Leary said he believes that hosting public bonfires violates these agreements.

“I will be challenging the holding of these events in the future,” he said. “I will be monitoring the events this year, including the materials used, and I will present this information to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We can’t act as a police force to stamp out bonfires and turn around and host them ourselves. Our public parks, which cost millions to develop and maintain over the years, will have scorched earth and won’t recover for months from this.”

St John’s Eve should be marked with alternative celebrations, Mr O’Leary added.

“People tell me that it is about tradition but traditions change,” he said. 

People enjoying enjoying a City Council family event for Bonfire Night in Kilmore Road in Knocknaheeny in 2015
People enjoying enjoying a City Council family event for Bonfire Night in Kilmore Road in Knocknaheeny in 2015

“Some are outdated and what was acceptable before is not anymore. We are in the midst of a major climate challenge. We have signed up to make changes to fight this and what is happening at these bonfires entirely contradicts this. We need to mark this celebration in a non-fire manner; we can’t just turn a blind eye to some laws and not others.”

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