Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council's fingers burnt over involvement in bonfire fiasco

By Lindy McDowell

If only I'd known a while back when we were moving house and needed to put some furniture into (expensive) storage that Belfast City Council apparently can keep the stuff for you for free.

I believe the only catch is that you have to assure them that when you get it back you're going to set fire to it. Occasionally there are stories from this part of the world that take the breath from you. Where even the description "lunacy" does not do justice.

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Pallet-gate is currently right at the top of the heap. The story so far - as most local taxpayers, their mouths agape in disbelief will be aware - goes like this...

Belfast City Council, concerned about the vast number of pallets awaiting Eleventh Night incineration, removed around 2,500 of them from the Bloomfield Walkway site near Chobham Street. Several hundred more were liberated from the bonfire site beside the Holiday Inn in Hope Street.

In a statement, the council explained the wooden pallets had been removed "by agreement with the local community" (we all know what that means) and that the council was working with "communities and statutory agencies to minimise the negative impact of bonfires".

You'd assume this means that the pallets would then be destroyed.

Or, this being Belfast City Council with its obsession re: land refill targets, recycled. Isn't there a big market for wood stove pellets these days?

But, no.

The pallets were to be given back to the respective bonfire builders after having been put into storage at (I love this phrase) "a secret location."

The Gransha Road, as it turns out.

Needless to say, they've since been nicked. All 3,000-plus of them.

Now, I know the Gransha Road well (I have an alibi, inspector) but it's hard to think where in that area you could secrete a lorry-load of wooden pallets far from prying eyes.

Somebody spotted them, though. Somebody took them. And if that somebody had been aiming merely to frustrate the bonfire builders by preventing them from getting their pallets back then they would simply have put a match to the things.

I think it's fair to assume then, inspector, that the nicked kindling will eventually show up on some local pyre - whether loyalist or republican, at this point we know not.

The fallout from the entire farce is that the bonfire builders, miffed that their "boneys" will now be several layers short of Dante's inferno, are now said to be talking in terms of recompense. According to a City Hall insider, they are likely to "go ballistic".

"They will say that they let the council take away their pallets in good faith and it's the council's responsibility to replace everything that has been stolen." The aggrieved bonfire builders are portrayed here a bit like a granny who thought her pearls were in safe keeping in the bank's safety deposit, only to find there's been a break-in.

It goes without saying that many concerned citizens will be fuming at the very notion of compensation for bonfire pallets.

Where do all these pallets come from in the first place?

In recent years they have become the main building block in the construction of the ever-bigger, often unstable-looking minarets that are fired in many parts of Belfast on the Eleventh. Bonfires weren't always this big. Some still aren't.

In many areas, towns and villages where it's part of the local culture to build a fire to commemorate the landing of William of Orange in our midst, the bonfire is of more restrained design. It's about families getting together, a tradition shared. And traditionally it's the kids who build the boney. Not somebody with a contact in pallet importation - and an eye to compensation for theft of the same.

Belfast City Council has walked itself into a right mess over this fiasco. Fingers. Burnt. Yes, obviously.

But it's all just another pointer about how something needs to be done to curtail the excesses of the Eleventh. To let people enjoy themselves, yes. But to stop bonfires getting out of hand, becoming a danger and making life hellish for those who live close to the sites.

As for that smouldering issue of compensation for those whose pallets were scooped in the Gransha Road heist... I think we can all agree on our response to that one.

Unpalatable.

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