Stormont silent on fate of pallets removed from Belfast bonfires
STORMONT civil servants are refusing to clarify what was done with pallets removed from two loyalist bonfire sites in east Belfast.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said there was a "safe disposal" of the materials at Bloomfield Walkway and Cluan Place, but declined to specify how they were disposed of.
Officials also refused to say whether removed pallets that were the legal property of a global supply chain company were returned to the firm or destroyed.
It comes after DfI last week declined to make public the cost of the operation.
Masked contractors flanked by police in riot gear were called in to clear the two Eleventh Night bonfire sites following safety concerns.
DfI said it and Belfast City Council will foot the bill, but that "contractor rates are commercial in confidence and therefore we are unable to provide any cost details".
Some of the pallets removed are owned by the global company Chep.
The for-hire pallets – recognised for their blue colour and branding – are used in the firm's pooling service for retail and industrial supply chains and are not bought and sold.
Chep has previously urged bonfire builders not to use its pallets, saying that it "retains legal title".
Chep pallets are said to be worth between £15 and £20 each.
However, when asked how many Chep pallets were removed and whether they were returned to the company, DfI declined to say.
In a statement, a DfI spokeswoman said the bonfire operation "included the safe disposal of all materials removed" but it "does not hold information on the quantity of material removed".
When asked again whether Chep pallets were returned to the company or destroyed, the spokeswoman said: "We have nothing further to add to our statement at present."
Asked further if DfI was refusing to clarify whether contractors destroyed the legal property of Chep, the spokeswoman added: "We've provided you with a response and have nothing further to add."
Chep declined to give a specific comment on the matter.
However, a spokesman said its staff "work closely with the local authorities and with bonfire liaison officers to recover our pallets from these sites whenever it is safe to do so".
It's not the first time a public body has faced questions over its handling of Chep pallets removed from loyalist bonfires.
Last year, Belfast City Council had to hand over hundreds of pallets it was storing for a loyalist bonfire to Chep after the company claimed ownership of them.
It came after The Irish News revealed the council was controversially storing the pallets for bonfire builders at ratepayers' expense.
A subsequent investigation headed a former Northern Ireland Ombudsman found that no minutes or written records exist of key meetings that led to the divisive decision to store pallets.