Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena
Funeral directors arriving late for burials in Mid and East Antrim cemeteries can expect an additional charge of almost £200, councillors have been told.
The borough council’s Environment and Economy Committee heard at a meeting on Monday evening, late arrivals result in a “supplementary charge” when cemetery staff have to work outside fixed working hours to complete a burial.
The issue was highlighted when councillors were asked to support a recommendation to approve new rules and regulations for council-owned cemeteries in Mid and East Antrim.
Late arrivals occurred on three occasions, most recently, in May at Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena; in August, at Victoria Cemetery, Carrickfergus and in December, at Larne Cemetery, an officer told the meeting.
The committee was informed the current fee for a late arrival is £180.40.
Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said:
“If a loved one stands up at a funeral and the funeral over-runs, I think it is very harsh to enforce additional fees on someone for arriving late at a graveyard.
“This is a very challenging environment. The last thing I think council should be doing is enforcing further burdens on the family. I think this is a wrong I would like to see put right.”
The council officer told the committee the local authority tries to manage the service “as sensitively as possible”.
Cllr Gaston pointed out some people have been “let off” for some infringements but the council is “ruling with an iron fist” over fees.
Up to 50 graves have surrounds in Ballee Cemetery, Ballymena, which is supposed to be a lawn cemetery, to allow for easier maintenance.
“I do not think we should be ruling with an iron fist,” insisted Cllr Gaston. “I would like to see flexibility if people arrive late and give a legitimate reason such as stuck in traffic or someone standing up at a funeral takes longer than expected. I do not think it is something this council should be doing.”
The officer explained any additional cost such as overtime is recovered from those receiving a service.
“Somebody has to pay for that but it is a decision for elected members.”
Cllr Gaston asked: “How late were these three funerals? If we are talking about five, ten or 15 minutes, that would be a good detail to have.”
Philip Thompson, the council’s operations director, said there is a “grace period” of up to 15 minutes. He indicated the one in Ballymena arrived “well outside the grace period”.
Coast Road DUP Cllr Andrew Clarke asked about the procedure to make a change to the policy. He was advised if an issue arises, it can be brought back to councillors for a review after six months.
Cllr Gaston said he would support the proposal but would like information about the lateness of the funerals.
Knockagh Independent Cllr Bobby Hadden proposed approving the revised regulations for cemetery management seconded by Larne Lough Alliance Alderman Robert Logan.