Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council to approve removal of material from nationalist bonfires

By Suzanne Breen

Belfast City Council seems set to approve a motion that will see materials removed from bonfires in nationalist areas - despite the opposition of unionist councillors.

Sinn Fein has called a special council meeting to discuss the issue next Wednesday.

The party's motion allows the council to lift the material ahead of the August 9 anti-internment bonfires. Unionists have indicated they won't be supporting the proposal.

Sources said they believed that Sinn Fein was attempting to set a public precedent which would apply to Eleventh Night bonfires next year.

But with Alliance and SDLP backing it, the motion is likely to be carried. The PSNI and the Housing Executive has already removed pallets from bonfire sites in north Belfast.

Agreement to permit the council to do the same at sites in west Belfast couldn't be reached at private meetings in City Hall, with unionists refusing to support such a move. Sinn Fein's motion states: "This council gives permission to our council officers to remove bonfire materials or employ contractors to facilitate the removal of bonfire materials from council sites and other sites, which belong to statutory agencies and those which are in private ownership."

The party's group leader, Jim McVeigh, said: "These bonfires are a threat to life and to property.

"No bonfire is a safe bonfire. They are a blight on communities and a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

"The ratepayers of this city have to foot the cost of this year in and year out. Laws are being broken and this council has a duty to act."

However, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said that Sinn Fein was being "totally unreasonable" and that the motion was "unenforceable" across Belfast.

He added: "Contractors can't be found to do this work. Council employees can't be sent into such situations without protection. The police say it's a civil matter.

"What Sinn Fein is demanding just won't happen. Why should the council be paying to have material lifted from land which it doesn't even own? This isn't our responsibility."

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds said: "This is an attempt to bounce the council into a bad policy without committee scrutiny, without full advice from officers, to compel other agencies to act outside their powers and to prejudice the review and investigation."

Alliance councillor Michael Long said the council had a duty to support the west Belfast residents who wanted the material removed.

"The bonfires concerned cause anti-social behaviour, potentially could damage property, and there are health and safety issues," he added.

"I'm fully behind the council taking the lead, although other statutory agencies and the PSNI need to step up to the plate."

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said: "I've spoken to Divis residents living close to one of the sites and they want the material removed.

"After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we have a clear responsibility to protect people and property from fire."

People Before Profit councillor, Matt Collins, said he would support the motion, adding "now more than ever we need to develop a politics that seeks to challenge sectarianism in this city".

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