Retailers fearing arson campaign
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has expressed fears that the fire at Boucher Road Retail Park may mark the beginning of a dissident campaign in the run up to Christmas.
Up to 85 firefighters struggled to control the blaze at the south Belfast retail hub during the early hours of Tuesday morning (November 16).
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “We need to see as a matter of some urgency the |conclusions of the investigation |of this fire. Many retailers are concerned that a campaign of arson by dissident paramilitaries could be a real prospect given the importance of Christmas to the wider economy.
“While it is unclear as to what the cause of the fire was, it is very clear that this will cause considerable disruption for the retailers, their staff and customers at |the start of the most important trading time of the year.
“Nevertheless, we hope that all retailers will re-evaluate their fire safety procedures and we would also call upon customers to be vigilant in the coming months.”
Poundstretcher Extra at Boucher Crescent, where the fire began, suffered the worst damage with part of the building collapsing — the business employs 18 people.
Poundstretcher is believed to be looking for short term accommodation but said the jobs were safe. Company secretary Martin Collinson said: “We will endeavour as best we are able to try and accommodate those people who are affected within another one of our 26 stores in Northern Ireland.
“Because we have a number of other stores in relatively close proximity, we will seek opportunities to re-deploy people where that's possible.”
The two neighbouring units, Birthdays and JD Sports, have also been damaged with nine others affected by smoke.
A police spokesperson said suggestions that dissidents might be behind the fire were ‘unhelpful’. “For health and safety reasons we are unable to get into the building at present and so the investigation as to the cause of the fire has not yet begun,” she said.
“We have heard speculation from some business owners |that this fire may be dissident related, but this is pure speculation and unhelpful at this stage of |the investigation.”
Michael McGimpsey, MLA for south Belfast and Minister for Public Safety, said: “The Fire Service and PSNI will carry out a full investigation in due course to find the cause of the fire — thankfully at this stage there have been no |reported injuries.
“I commend the firefighters for the fearless way over many hours they have contained the fire and prevented further damage to |adjoining premises.”
South Belfast MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell said: “Those responsible for this annihilation offer |absolutely nothing to Northern Ireland and its people. Their |reckless and dangerous actions have caused nothing but misery |to hard working people and |their families.”
MLA Anna Lo added: “This is a real tragedy. Given the fact that it is coming up to Christmas, a number of businesses could suffer at a time that is meant to be their best of the year.”