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Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister is ‘unavailable’ to answer any questions about the environmental impact of bonfire night.

Belfast Live requested an interview with Edwin Poots to ask about everything from the air pollution impact of the Eleventh night to his main environmental concerns about the celebration.

The opportunity to put direct questions to Mr Poots was declined by his department press office - even after we offered to extend the deadline so he could speak to us.

The questions we planned to ask the Minister were responded to with a statement from Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Read more: The reason bonfires are lit on the Eleventh Night in NI

Our list of questions for Minister Poots about the impact of bonfires were:

  • What are your main environmental concerns about bonfire night?
  • What is your advice for communities planning bonfires?
  • What should we not be putting on bonfires?
  • What is your view on the annual contest for the biggest pyre?
  • Do you think communities should limit their (bonfires) size because of potential air pollution?
  • If attending a bonfire, what is your advice for families planning to take children?
  • Do you support the building of bonfires given the environmental impacts they can have?
  • Would your department ever consider taking air pollution monitors to bonfire sites when they are burning to show the harm they could cause health?
  • Has any work been done using the existing air pollution monitors around any potential spikes in harmful emissions on bonfire nights - not just the Eleventh night?
  • Would you prefer more communities to move toward more environmentally friendly wicker pyres?
  • What environmental impact does burning painted pallets have, if any?

The statement subsequently sent by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs reads: “Whilst NIEA plays an important role in the multi-agency management of any serious environmental risks and harms surrounding bonfires, it is not responsible for bonfires.

“The NIEA recognises the complexities in the management of traditional bonfires and their use as a means of cultural expression and works within a range of multiagency partnerships with the aim of ensuring bonfires are managed in a safe way; that they do not endanger life or property and the impact on the environment is minimised.

“As part of the multi-agency approach we will, where it is safe to do so and with appropriate support from our partners, assist in the removal of waste tyres from bonfires sites or associated locations. We have, and will continue to prosecute those who illegally dispose of waste tyres, however, it is difficult to trace the origin of waste tyres and unless there is sufficient evidence, such as an eye witness account or CCTV footage, then identification and prosecution of the perpetrator is problematic. Therefore, our efforts are focused in trying to prevent such wastes reaching bonfire sites in the first instance.

“DAERA is committed to continually upgrading and improving air quality monitoring in NI however, it should be recognised that all forms of burning causes some air pollution. Our response to any burning is the same irrespective of the reason and where possible we would encourage citizens to reduce, reuse or recycle instead.

“Air quality is a complex issue with many interactions to consider e.g. emission sources, meteorology and concentrations and while the Department keeps monitored air quality data under constant review to date, there has been no requirement to issue an air pollution alert that has been linked to bonfire nights. Our current focus is on improving particulate matter monitoring coverage and we have recently provided funding to district councils to extend larger particulate matter monitoring (for PM10) to include fine particulate matter monitoring (for PM2.5).“

As of today, there are 20 air pollution monitors working across NI according to www.airqualityni.co.uk, seven of which are in place west of the River Bann.

DAERA said five monitors capable of monitoring PM10 and PM2.5 have been installed in since 2020. They are:

  • Ards and North Down Borough Council one new monitor is now up and running as of 2020
  • Lisburn Castlereagh City Council - one new monitor is now up and running as of 2021
  • Mid & East Antrim Borough Council - one new monitor is now up and running as of 2021
  • Derry City and Strabane District Council - two new monitors installed earlier in 2022

They added: “It is anticipated that a consultation on development of NI’s first Clean Air Strategy will launch later in 2022 during which further thought and consideration will be given to installing more air quality monitors.”

When we put to them the statement ‘clearly doesn’t answer what are very important environmental questions in any detail’ and highlighted how the public will be curious as to why the Minister couldn’t take the time to answer the questions himself, DAERA said the statement could be attributed to Mr Poots.


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