Lots of smoke and bang, but still no fireworks ban

Edition 28 December, by Johannes Visser

The end of the year is nigh and the holidays are around the corner. For New Year’s Eve (NYE) we can once again expect tons of fi reworks going off, despite sustained efforts to have them banned in the Netherlands. In spite of the 11,000 incidents, many life-changing injuries and at least one fatal casualty every year, the Dutch government is not (yet) ready to do away with fireworks altogether.

At the end of 2017 the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) presented its research on safety risks during the turn of the year. The report concluded that NYE celebrations are the most dangerous events of the year and recommended banning the individual use of heavy fi reworks. This triggered a national debate that fl ared up many times throughout the year. The biggest cities want a national ban, but the small communities won’t have it. The national government wants to leave it to the municipalities, but this is not considered an adequate solution.

The main issue is that fi reworks are only really a serious danger in the four big cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). The G4 wrote a letter to the national government in February to have fi reworks banned around the country, because every year the police and emergency services have to face large groups of people, drunk and/or on drugs, abusing fireworks during NYE. Fireworks are thrown or launched at the police in a kind of wild-west partying atmosphere that can escalate quickly. NYE turns out to be not very festive for those wearing the uniform. But outside of the Randstad, things are much calmer in the Netherlands’ smaller municipalities. Here fireworks are seen as part of a long tradition of celebrating the year’s end and the beginning of the new, as it is around the world. Many small communities organize so-called carbide shooting events in a truly joyful atmosphere. In much of the country, fireworks are considered to be only a problem for the big cities, caused mostly by illegal fireworks.

More of the same

In June the government in The Hague decided to not ban fi reworks nationally, but instead let municipalities continue to decide individually whether to allow them or not. Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus had earlier announced a ‘total package’ including more resources for police and heavier sentencing for those selling and using illegal fi reworks, and for people who commit acts of violence against those in uniform. According to Grapperhaus, a ban does no justice to the overwhelmingly large number of people who want to enjoy fi reworks in a peaceful and festive way. Fireworks sellers are now also required to offer free spectacles and lighting fuses in order to protect eyes and limbs, and additional safety measures are in place for the sale of fi reworks. Communities (read: big cities) can decide on firework-free zones within their borders. This is meant to substantially reduce safety risks in city centers, where large groups of partygoers get together, but the G4 are not happy with the policy and think security problems will only be moved elsewhere.

War zone

Rotterdam aims to go the furthest to contain potential security dangers, creating as many as 35 fi reworks-free zones during 2019 New Year’s Eve (though not yet this year). But it remains to be seen whether these zones are really functional. When in the heat of the moment police offi cers are facing large groups of drunken folk lobbing heavy firecrackers and rockets at them, it might not be so easy to distinguish in which exact street these are allowed and where they aren’t. Therefore, the police trade union responded with ‘extreme disappointment’ to the government’s decision, stating that ‘the fireworks lobby has once again prevailed’. Ophthalmologists, animal protection groups and insurers have also responded with dismay to this ‘missed opportunity’. But in the end, everything is still very much up in the air. Many things will depend on how this New Year’s Eve pans out. Minister Grapperhaus said he does not rule out a national fi reworks ban in the near future, if the current measures fail to have the desired effect. Over the past years the number of incidents and (seriously injured) victims has been trending downward, but if those numbers go up again, a ban will once more become a real possibility. This should not mean that Dutch skies will go dark during NYE; only that you would get to admire (professional) fireworks from a safe distance, while personally lighting your favorite crack and bang becomes a thing of the past.