Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein seeks to block return of pallets and 'facilitation of illegal bonfire' by Belfast City Council

Council removed 1,500 pallets from Sandy Row site and is expected to return them before July 12

Sinn Fein has said it will oppose any attempt by Belfast City Council to return hundreds of pallets to the site of a bonfire in the Sandy Row area of the city.

The council removed 1,500 pallets from the site close to Wellwood Street and Hope Street and is keeping them in storage. It is expected to return them before July 12.

In recent years hundreds of pallets have been amassed on land beside the Holiday Inn hotel in the weeks before the Eleventh Night.

Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh said: "Council officials took a unilateral decision without any consultation with elected members to remove these pallets from the site in order to carry out a clean-up. They then gave a commitment to keep them safely in storage and return them in time for the 12th of July.

"Effectively, that meant council staff and equipment were being used to facilitate an illegal bonfire, one that caused huge disruption and both physical and reputational damage last year. That is entirely unacceptable.

"It has also now emerged that a the owners of a number of wooden pallets which were on the bonfire has demanded them back.

"So not only has council been facilitating this illegal bonfire, they’ve also been handling goods which belong to someone else.

The matter will come before the Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee next Friday, when the councillor insists Sinn Fein will "rigorously oppose any attempt to return the pallets to the bonfire site".

He added: "Illegal bonfires are a blight on communities. They are a major health and safety hazard and a magnet for anti-social and dangerous behaviour.

"They also portray the city in a negative light to international investors and tourists which is contrary to our corporate plan.

"Council officials should not be facilitating them in any way and the Sinn Féin grouping will be opposing any attempt to return these materials to the bonfire site.

"The council could be leaving itself open to a legal challenge from ratepayers on health and safety grounds by facilitating this bonfire if anyone is injured or property damaged as a result.

"The materials should not be put in storage. They should not be returned. They should either be returned to their rightful owners or destroyed immediately."

Hotel guests near the bonfire site have complained in previous years about groups of youths gathering in the area in the run-up to the Eleventh Night.

One visitor commented in a TripAdvisor review: "Setting up the bonfire did nothing to improve stay or view from room. Noise continued late into the night, smell of smoke did not help."

Another guest wrote: "Not a pleasant experience, place was noisy, not such a nice area, drunks, verbal abuse, guys with Union flags. Looking forward to leaving Belfast."

A council spokesman said it was aware of the "negative impact of bonfires on communities" and said it is "seeking to work with other statutory agencies and communities to minimise negative issues at bonfire sites in so far as is possible".

"As part of this ongoing work, the council, in agreement with the local community, last weekend removed some 1,500 pallets from the site at Wellwood Street.

"No arrangements have been made as yet for the return of the material back to the bonfire site."

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