Belfast Telegraph

City Hall refuses to say if it will pay

By Aaron Tinney

Belfast City Council has refused to say if it will spend around £200,000 to replace 3,000 stolen pallets it controversially stored for loyalist bonfires.

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed the theft of Eleventh Night material from council land in east Belfast is being investigated by the PSNI.

The pallets were to be returned to two contentious bonfire sites - one near Chobham Street in east Belfast, the other beside the Holiday Inn in Sandy Row.

However, they were stolen in a large-scale operation that would have involved at least one lorry and several thieves. We estimate the cost of replacing the pallets could be up to £195,000 as sets of 10 are on sale for around £65.

When the Belfast Telegraph asked the council if it would foot the bill to buy new pallets, a spokeswoman would not comment.

Instead the council issued a statement saying it "continues to work with communities".

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman added: "Our focus is on helping to calm community tensions at this time.

"We will not be commenting on the circumstances surrounding this specific incident as it is now the subject of a police investigation."

The pallets were confiscated from two bonfire sites and held at a "secret location", which we revealed was council land on the Gransha Road near the La Mon Hotel.

Yesterday's meeting of the council's strategic policy and resources committee was dominated by the theft.

But council members at the gathering were tight-lipped about what was said.

Councillor David Browne, who was at the meeting, told the Belfast Telegraph he did not want to get involved in spreading "gossip".

However, he admitted the question of whether the council would be paying for replacement pallets was "not decided and was not discussed".

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