Mid and East Antrim councillors have agreed that new segments opened in Ballymena cemeteries must be retained in lawn after “disregard for policy” by some grave owners.
The issue was highlighted at a meeting of the borough council’s Environment and Economy Committee last week.
The committee was told when rules and regulations were approved by the council in July 2018, these did not permit four ft grave surrounds in Mid Antrim cemeteries.
However, the council says it is experiencing “more and more disregard for this policy” at cemeteries in Ballymena with “many grave owners placing small temporary, and in some cases, full surrounds” on graves.
A report to the committee noted graves purchased before July 2018, however, were permitted to have a small surround. It has indicated as a result, the council has been challenged over why these have been allowed and those purchased after this date have been refused, resulting in its regulations being flouted.
The report continued: “The reintroduction of small four ft surrounds would treat everyone on an equal basis in MId Antrim and would be easier to manage.”
Operations director Philip Thompson told the meeting that lawn cemeteries were in place “for maintenance”.
Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said:
“It is very much an exercise to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is unfortunate these infringements have been allowed to happen. I am not sure how we can go back to a family to ask them to regularise them.”
However, he acknowledged the “current infringement makes it very difficult to maintain”.
Cllr Gaston went on to say an undertaker was “fined” by the council for a late arrival at a Ballymena cemetery after a funeral service over-ran.
Mr Thompson said he was aware of that particular incident and insisted it was not a “fine” but “an additional charge” as it had extended over a “cut-off point”.
“It is not a fine. It is an additional cost. It runs into staff overtime,” he explained.
Braid DUP Alderman William McCaughey stressed when families purchase plots, they need to be made aware of those which are in lawn cemeteries,
The director said policy, conditions and enforcements need to be clear when people buy a grave. He reported 40 to 50 “infringements” at Ballee Cemetery.
Cllr Gaston said he would not be in favour of asking 40 to 50 families to remove grave surrounds and proposed those erected around loved ones’ graves be permitted to remain.
Larne Lough DUP Cllr Gregg McKeen asked:
“How did we let it get to this position? How we got into this situation beggars belief. To go to a family now and ask them to remove something would be very difficult and very disturbing for most families.”
He suggested in future, “original policy” must be enforced. He also stressed the council would not be asking anyone to remove a surround.