Northern Ireland news

Benches in public square in Belfast used by rough sleepers reinstalled by council

The new look benches at Jubilee Square in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
John Monaghan

BENCHES have been reinstalled in a public square in Belfast city centre used by rough sleepers.

Teams from Belfast City Council moved in yesterday to replace wooden slats which had earlier been cut off by the council to prevent people gathering in Jubilee Square, at the junction of Victoria Street and High Street.

On Wednesday, the council announced it would be temporarily reinstated following a backlash from homeless campaigners and pressure from councillors.

The Irish News revealed last week that the council had taken away the benches as part of "general improvements" aimed at reducing "any potential for anti-social behaviour".

Elected representatives had expressed anger that they had not been consulted about the move.

The decision to cut up the benches - leaving only concrete slabs on either side in place - came after the council had received complaints from businesses and the public about anti-social behaviour and crowds gathering in the area.

The council has now agreed to reinstall the benches over the Christmas period, and the matter is to be reviewed in January.

A protest against the removal of the benches and highlighting homelessness is due to take place today at Jubilee Square at 1pm.

Organised by social media enterprise VIEWdigital, it has received support from veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman and singer Brian Kennedy.

Council workers replace the slats on the benches on Thursday morning. Picture by Mal McCann

Mr Kennedy has sent a letter which will be read out at the rally, in which he urges the council to "acknowledge the homeless pandemic".

Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council, wished the protesters well and tweeted: "Welcome reversal of the poor decision by Belfast City Council to hack away benches."

Sinn Féin council group leader in Belfast Jim McVeigh said: "This should never have happened in the first place and this city needs to do everything in its power to get homeless citizens off the streets and into shelter.

"The restoration of these benches, while welcome, is not enough and more needs to be done on top of the incredible work already being done by homeless support groups in Belfast."

Teams from Belfast City Council get to work replacing the benches. Picture by Mal McCann

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman: "This is a temporary measure pending a more detailed council review which will take place early in the new year.

"We are also planning further consultation with our city partners in the voluntary and statutory sector to ensure the most vulnerable citizens in our society are protected through a continued inter-agency approach."

Council workers replace the slats on the benches at Jubilee Square. Picture by Mal McCann

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