Belfast Telegraph

Councillors agree investigation into pallet storage controversy

Belfast councillors have met for the first time since 3,000 pallets, stored for loyalist bonfire makers, were stolen from council premises.

An investigation into the theft, and how the council controversially came to store the pallets in the first place, is under way.

Councillors this evening all agreed to an investigation for pallets to be used at the Chobham Street and Hope Street bonfire sites.

The DUP expressed that although they supported the investigation, they did not believe the council to be at fault.

The issue was raised in the chamber by Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh, and a vote by councillors was required to decide whether or not the issue should be discussed in front of the media and public.

The vote passed by 34 to 19, with some unionist politicians in opposition.

Prior to the discussion, Council Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie left the chamber after declaring a conflict of interest.

Cllr McVeigh then spoke on the issue, and proposed terms of reference on the investigation into the theft and storage of the pallets.

Prior to speaking, he was warned by Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister that members of the public were watching the discussion and to make sure that "your behaviour and conduct is fitting of the office which you hold".

"As far as we’re concerned it’s time to call a spade a spade. Bonfires are not culture, they’re anti-culture," he said.

He added that to his knowledge most councillors were "left in the dark" and that the decision to store the pallets had "seriously damaged the reputation of this council".

McVeigh then proposed that the terms of reference for the investigation be put to a vote.

The theft, which was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph, has been described as farcical by Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP who expressed fury that the wood was being stored by the council.

The pallets were removed from bonfire sites near Chobham Street in east Belfast and the Holiday Inn in Sandy Row. They were due to be returned to bonfire builders in the run-up to the eleventh night.

They were in storage on council land on the Gransha Road, near the La Mon Hotel, when they were stolen. A loyalist demand that the council replace the stolen pallets has been refused.

Read more: Heated debate is in store at Belfast city hall over stolen bonfire pallets

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