08/01/2019

Belfast City Council Pledges £500k To Reduce Bonfire Tensions

Belfast City Council has voted to approve a £500,000 funding boost aimed at reducing tensions around bonfires in the summer.

The controversial move was met with criticism from Alliance, the UUP and the SDLP.

It is the second year in a row Sinn Fein and the DUP have together allocated a portion of public money to a range of community groups for "diversionary activities associated with July and August bonfires".

Last year, £400k of taxpayers' money was allocated for the issue, but it was increased this year following criticism of how the fund was divided previously.

Alliance councillor Michael Long opposed the increase to Belfast's 2019 rates at the council meeting on Monday 07 January, after arguing late last year that it was "simply unacceptable".

"We simply cannot support a rates increase that will improve the life of some in our city at the literal expense of others," the Alliance Belfast group leader said.

"That's why at a meeting late last month we sought to remove this additional fund from the rates increase, proposing a rise of 1.67 percent, rather than the DUP and Sinn Fein backed 1.98 percent, and will again be putting that forward as an alternative on Monday night.
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"As it stands I can only see that those two parties are thinking less about the fact we are in a time of continued austerity and more about what they can gain for individual groups. And that's exactly why we had huge concerns with the original fund and the fact it seemed to deliver very little for those who actually needed to benefit from it.

"Alliance is keen to ensure that ratepayers and businesses face as low a rates increase as possible, especially as the Council already spends close to £500,000 on bonfires aside from the additional money this fund would provide.

"At this time, I think most ratepayers will be astonished that the DUP and Sinn Fein have opted to prioritise this matter rather than provide additional service for ratepayers, promotion of the Belfast Agenda or support for those in need, particularly given the impact of welfare reform and the needs of the homeless and disadvantaged.

"I hope both parties will have had time to reflect over the Christmas period and will be prepared to deliver for everyone in Belfast."

The council voted to reject Mr Long's amendment to have the money taken out of the council's budget.

Sinn Fein, DUP and PUP councillors said the events funded last year helped reduce anti-social behaviour around bonfires and benefited communities.

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood also put forward an amendment for the funding to be directed to an anti-poverty crisis intervention fund which was also lost when it went to vote.



(JG)

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