Fireworks Misuse

THE scenes of destruction caused by fireworks in Cardiff this week, might have convinced TV viewers that the current crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process had led to renewed terrorist bombings.

A telephone kiosk blown out, and a post box bombed apart were incidents in a different league to the usual annual nuisance caused by the misuse of fireworks.

The origin of this yearly blow-out dates back of course to a failed act of terrorism in 1605. Then Guy Fawkes and company, attempted to blow up Parliament, MPs, Lords, King and all.

Down the centuries there have been other parliamentary outrages, from the assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812, to the murder of the Conservative MP Airey Neave by the IRA in 1979, as his car pulled up the ramp of the House of Commons car park.

But only the Catholic plot of Mr Fawkes, which all the evidence suggests was a set-up by government agents, is marked each year with a fireworks free for all.

Deaths and injuries from fireworks have actually fallen since I was a child. In 1962 there were 2,800 injuries receiving hospital treatment from fireworks, compared to 972 in 2000. But the recent trend has been upward even though the Government tightened up fireworks regulations in 1997.

In addition for sheer power and noise modern fireworks are literally of a different calibre.
As for the incidents in Ely this week, it appears that the perpetrators had got hold of most powerful fireworks, intended only for use in organized displays. These, under Government regulations, should only be sold to professional display organizers, but the law allows individuals to store any amount of fireworks in a safe place for 14 days for private use. This makes it difficult for the Police to obtain prosecutions against rogue retailers.

There is no doubt that had anyone come near to the post box which was bombed last Monday morning that they would have been killed or seriously maimed.

The case for a complete ban on the private sale of fireworks is stronger than ever. Last year in Ely alone the Police received 112 calls between 6.00 pm and midnight on November 5th in relation to firework incidents. This monumental waste of police time is repeated across Cardiff and the country.

Some say that to ban the private sale of fireworks would be an attack on freedom, but in reality its principal affect would be to free millions of people from fear, criminal damage, noise pollution and the threat of injury to themselves and their pet animals.

It may be that a black market would persist, but at least people would know instantly that the acts being carried out were a loudly advertised criminal offence, which the Police could do something about.

Last year I tabled a Commons motion calling for legislation to restrict the sale and use of fireworks. Surely the time has come for fireworks to be limited to licensed and properly trained operators at organized displays.

That does not mean there could be no Bonfire Night, or New Year's Celebration, or Diwali or other cultural and religious celebrations where fireworks traditionally feature.

Fireworks in the right hands are a colourful and exuberant way to celebrate. In the wrong hands they are a dangerous nuisance.

And if you do light the blue touch paper this autumn, please do so safely and considerately.