Residents have welcomed the start of a clear up operation at an illegal dump on the Crumlin Road, but questioned why it took a protest to make it happen.
Contractors secured by the landowners at Edenderry Mill sent the first lorry loads of rubbish away on Tuesday, and it’s expected the site will be clear by the end of the week.
Staff from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) also started to clear rubbish from another site on the junction of the Hillview Road and Crumlin Road.
Updating the Stormont Assembly, Environment Minister Edwin Poots said the issue was being “robustly investigated” by the NIEA’s enforcement branch and any relevant information would be passed on to prosecutors.
He also warned offenders they faced prosecution and urged courts to impose heavy fines for fly tipping.
"There is a bit of the white van man scenario who has been doing tidying up around people's homes, bits and pieces involved in fly tipping,” he said.
"There may be some people who have set themselves up to handle waste whenever they are not registered waste handlers.
"Due process is what will bring results, by taking these people to court and having them fined and the costs charged to them for the disposal of any materials."
He also questioned why some of Northern Ireland’s recycling centres were still not open.
"Get your act together. Get these recycling centres open and provide the service you are being paid to provide," he said.
Stacey Graham protested with other residents at the mill on Monday, with a number forced to leave their homes due to rats and swarms of flies.
“We’re really happy that there’s been some movement but it’s only because people decided to take some actions themselves,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“The relevant agencies just weren’t doing things quickly enough after elected representatives were on to them.
“The main issue now is that there’s going to be a serious influx of rats and vermin into the community which needs to be addressed as well.”
She added: “We’ll be maintaining a presence here until we know that everything has been completely cleared and treated safely.”
Green Party councillor Mal O’Hara said that Belfast City Council staff had already started sewer baiting in the surrounding streets to prevent vermin from infecting homes of infesting as they flee the site.
“I think for us this shows why we need an independent environmental protection agency,” he said.
“It’s deja vu, we obviously should have learnt from what happened with the Mobouy dump in Derry. That’s why we need an independent agency which can robustly address the issues when people raise them.”
A DAERA spokesperson for DAERA said the NIEA is investigating unauthorised waste disposal at both the Edenderry and Hillview Road/Crumlin Road site.
“The Agency was made aware of the Edenderry site on 11 June and has since has issued a statutory notice to the site operator with direction to clear the site by 31 July," they added.
"The Agency has been monitoring the situation and not content with the progress, has now engaged directly with the site landowner, who has informed the Department they have appointed a contractor to commence work immediately on removal of the wastes from the site. This work is expected to commence today and the Agency will be monitoring closely the progress with this work.
“Separately the NIEA has arranged for the wastes located adjacent to the junction of Hillview Road/Crumlin Road Belfast to be removed by its own contractor on Tuesday 21 July.
“The Environment Minister Edwin Poots has given his assurance that his Department will pursue this case vigorously in the courts and do all it can to ensure those responsible are prosecuted. As these investigations are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage."