Bill for moving loyalist bonfire still not agreed
A STORMONT department and Belfast City Council have yet to agree on how to split the cost of contractors brought in to dismantle two contentious loyalist bonfires.
Masked contractors flanked by police in riot gear last month cleared bonfire sites at Bloomfield Walkway and Cluan Place in east Belfast before the Eleventh Night following safety concerns.
At the time the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said it would foot the bill for the Cluan Place operation and would share the Bloomfield Walkway cost with Belfast City Council (BCC).
But more than a month on, no agreement has been reached on how to split the costs between the taxpayer-funded department and city ratepayers.
A DfI spokeswoman said: "The cost of removing bonfire material from Bloomfield Walkway is being met by Belfast City Council and the department.
"While this has been agreed in principle the precise apportionment costs has not yet been finalised.
"The department will meet the cost of the removal of material from Cluan Place."
- Ex-soldiers hired to remove loyalist bonfire material
Contractors were sent to Bloomfield Walkway to remove bonfire material after a High Court judge directed DfI to take action following legal proceedings brought by BCC.
It followed concerns that the towering pyre posed a serious threat to nearby homes. The bonfire was set alight just as contractors moved in to try to remove it.
The Cluan Place bonfire was also dismantled before the Eleventh Night after fire crews raised concerns over its closeness to properties.
DfI has refused to reveal the cost of the operation, saying that "contractor rates are commercial in confidence and therefore we are unable to provide any cost details".
It has also declined to specify what happened to the removed materials, other than to say there was a "safe disposal".
The department has previously said that as the landowner of the Bloomfield Walkway site, it is "likely to cover a significant proportion" of the costs.
Last week The Irish News revealed DfI has spent almost £70,000 in the past three years on clean-ups and repairs following loyalist bonfires.
More than £24,000 was spent this year, but DfI confirmed this does not include the spending on contractors for the Cluan Place and Bloomfield Walkway operations.
A total of £27,950 was spent in 2016/17, a further £16,373 in 2017/18 and £24,016 in 2018/19 so far, according to a Freedom of Information request.