Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council probe into storage of bonfire pallets

An investigation will take place into a decision by Belfast City Council to store up to 3,000 pallets meant for loyalist bonfires in the city.

It comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the pallets, which were being stored by the council before being returned to two contentious bonfire sites - one near Chobham Street in east Belfast, and the other beside the Holiday Inn in Sandy Row - were stolen from council land.

The issue dominated a meeting of the council's strategic policy and resources committee on Friday.

Alliance Councillor Michael Long, who brought forward the proposal, said the investigation was unanimously backed by the committee. The proposal will go to full council for approval.

Mr Long said: "The recent revelations prove yet again the scourge of paramilitaries remains rife on our streets. This cannot continue and we must get firm answers into how and why the Council's role in agreeing and storing these pallets played out.”

"The Council's reputation has been damaged, there is no way to avoid that now and while Council officers are in a very difficult position in the face of growing paramilitary control, we must reassess the decision-making process, standing together as we move forward."

Earlier Sinn Fein, Alliance and SDLP councillors claimed that the council had removed and stored the pallets without consulting them.

Sinn Fein's group leader at City Hall Jim McVeigh accused the council of "facilitating illegal bonfires". He said Sinn Fein will be "monitoring the investigation closely".

"The ratepayers and citizens of Belfast deserve no less than the highest standards from their council and, on this occasion, clearly those standards have not been met."

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said his party “supports a full investigation by Belfast City Council, with independent input, into the handling of bonfires and bonfire material and the drawing up of clear guidelines and processes on how we deal with bonfires and material."

The incident, which happened in east Belfast, is being investigated by police.

A PSNI spokesman said: "Police have received a report on the evening of June 22 regarding the theft of a number of pallets. It is unclear at this time when the pallets were taken and enquiries are ongoing."

Belfast City Council told the Belfast Telegraph it removed the pallets "by agreement with the local community" and that it was working with "communities and statutory agencies to minimise the negative impact of bonfires".

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