Belfast Telegraph

NIO 'not responsible' for compensating residents of bonfire-damaged flats

By Noel McAdam

The Northern Ireland Office has insisted it will not issue compensation to residents of an apartment block damaged by the heat from an Eleventh Night bonfire.

Windows in the city centre block shattered and there were scorch marks - as well as smoke damage - from the intensity of a Sandy Row bonfire erected on Housing Executive land at nearby Victoria Place.

Despite demands elsewhere, the fire service spent hours dousing the Wellwood Street apartments to prevent them from going on fire.

But residents of the high-rise building appeared to be left in limbo after they held a meeting to demand accountability from the authorities and ask who would pick up the bill.

First the Northern Ireland Office insisted it was not responsible for paying and then Belfast City Council said it does not have a compensation scheme.

The NIO, however, said: "The issue of bonfires is complex and often involves a number of organisations operating within the devolved administration such as; the local council and the respective landowner.

"Where an individual is seeking compensation for damage to property, the specific circumstances of each claim will define the process."

And a spokesman for Belfast City Council added: "The council works with a range of partner agencies and communities to mitigate the most negative impacts of bonfires. However, it has no role in relation to the bonfire itself."

However, Sinn Fein group leader Jim McVeigh said: "These residents are rate payers. They could very well find themselves with increased insurance premiums due to the negligence of others. This is wholly unacceptable.

"I am calling on both Belfast City Council and the Housing Executive to give serious consideration to compensating the tenants."

DUP South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly earlier reassured residents the apartment block is fully insured and repairs will be carried out.

"I have spoken to the property manager and he has assured me he will be doing everything possible to ensure the windows are fixed as soon as possible," she said.

The DUP MP's clarification came after a meeting of around 30 residents demanded to know if any statutory agency is responsible.

One resident said: "This is a maze to traverse, to try and understand where the responsibility lies.

"We just want help, we don't care where it comes from."

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