Following a short sabbatical from social media I tuned into facebook today only to discover that an incendiary situation in Derry had spontaneously combusted. On Thursday morning children in the Bogside area of the city had their bonfire material which was stored in Meenan Square confiscated under the watchful eyes of heavily armed PSNI officers. Despite any legitimate concerns overkill seems an apt description of this heavy handed approach.
Derry City & Strabane District Council in a statement to the BBC stated "Council is committed to providing advice and support to reduce the risk of bonfires to public safety and minimise any potential detrimental impact to the local environment." Yet I'm not sure how the forced removal of materials by Council in the Bogside marries up with Council's approach to the annual bonfire in the Fountain Estate as part of the 12th night celebrations, which went ahead unimpeded. Could it be different approaches for different areas?
Today I carried out a short survey with a number of young people. I outlined the situation to them giving both sides of the argument. The responses from these young people aged between 11-17 proved interesting. They stated they could understand the reasons not to burn tyres or other similar materials but saw no reason not to allow young people to hold a bonfire in an agreed space with proper support provided by Council. They also unanimously stated that if one section of the community was allowed a bonfire the other should be. One of the older children was emphatic in his call for council to engage directly with the young people and not through 'community groups' as he believes these community groups are more about jobs and funding than the community.
With increased emphasis today on cementing cross community relations we cannot overlook the potential impact the disparity around this issue will have on these relations. As such I would call on Derry and Strabane District Council to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment to ensure that young people who may already feel socially excluded and marginalised are not further disenfranchised by the actions of our local government authority. Furthermore we must also look at the failure of so called community elements who promote cross community relations yet seemingly overlook inter-generational work in their own communities. When those funded to work within the community are butting heads with the community members they are paid to support their approach needs to be addressed as does their absence when things go awry.
At a time like this you also have to wonder where the self appointed moral guardians are? The Bogside Residents Group who were formed for the purpose of addressing contentious issues were noticeably absent. Where was the Unity Of Purpose Group and their soap box? Outside of of the efforts of Independent Councilor Gary Donnelly did any other elected representatives engage directly with the young people? Another person who could have intervened was Jim Roddy of the City Centre Initiative. Jim who was recently awarded an MBE in recognition of his services to the community was nowhere to seen. As after all who better to engage with young people on these issues than a former fireman.
If council worked directly with the young people as opposed to community groups a practical and pragmatic outcome could be reached. Maybe the local youth could request to engage with council directly next time with the existing community groups clearly incapable of reaching an amicable solution that is community led as opposed to funding led.