All of the Council owned cemeteries are to become ‘lawn cemeteries’, after members agreed on the implementation of new rules and regulations, at a meeting of Council’s Environment Committee last week.
There was some opposition to the new rules, which will restrict the available space for memorials and floral arrangements at each of the sites.
The rules will also allow for the efficient use of mechanised equipment for grave digging and cemetery maintenance.
As part of the new regulations there will also be a ban on the pre-purchase of plots.
A number of councillors commented on the ‘sensitive issue’ of families having to remove memorials from graves, that do not meet the criteria.
PUP councillor Russell Watton was one member who spoke out: “How can you ask a man to remove a surround from his son’s grave that has been there for 25 years? This report is full of inconstancies,” he said.
“On one page we read about strict adherence to the rules, whilst on the next we read about a sensitive resolution.”
SDLP councillor Gerry Mullan agreed, asking how the new rules would be implemented.
He described the issue as ‘very sensitive’ saying: “I do support the harmonisation going forward, but there are two elements here - plots haven’t been regulated in the past, so to try and introduce retrospective enforcement is a mission impossible, this will only cause further resentment for families.”
He pointed out that dealing with plots on the lawn cemeteries that had surrounds where they shouldn’t have was a ‘separate issue’.
Council officer Gareth Doyle told members that Council had worked with families to find resolutions.
He said that in Coleraine cemetery there were only 12 plots that were ‘unauthorised’ and there had been around 100 unauthorised plots in the 90’s.
He said that there were more in Ballymoney.
Sinn Fein councillor Keiran Mulholland said that members needed to support the Council staff, but also the families at the same time. He put forward an amendment to allow families who have graves on the designated grass plots to maintain their plots themselves, and review the plot on an annual basis. This was seconded by Sinn Fein councillor Tony McCaul. “It’s unfair that some are getting to keep a surround whilst others aren’t,” he said.
Speaking on the issue, UUP councillor Richard Holmes said: “People are unhappy that they adhered to the regulations when others who didn’t got away with it.”
He asked if a regulation about astro turf not being permitted on plots could be included in the new rules, this was agreed by members.
On being put to a vote, the amendment put forward by cllr Mulholland was voted down, and the recommendation before the meeting to go ahead with the new rules was carried. PUP councillor Russell Watton abstained from both votes. The regulations will be ratified at a full Council later this month.