Northern Ireland news

Video: Primark staff 'to be paid until the end of the week'

 An aerial view of the devastation caused to Primark and the Bank Buildings. Picture by Gregory Weeks
Digital Staff

PRIMARK staff in the Royal Avenue branch devastated by fire have been told they will be paid until the end of this week and their jobs are safe "for the foreseeable future" according to a union.

Usdaw union representative Michala Lafferty said workers had met management today.

“Today we had a constructive meeting where the company confirmed all staff will be paid up until the end of the week. Over the coming days further discussions will take place to agree what happens next week. 

“The company has reassured me that the welfare and job security of the staff is their priority.”

In a statement Primark said the welfare of its colleagues "remains our most important concern and we are fully committed to supporting them during this difficult time".

"Our management team in Belfast are meeting their colleagues over the next few days to provide them with the necessary support and information."

Primark said the cause of the fire had yet to be established. The blaze started yesterday morning and firefighters are continuing to douse the embers of Banks Buildings, which houses the store.

At the height of the fire yesterday 100 firefighters were tackling the blaze and there are still concerns about the structural integrity of the building.

At 5pm the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said there are "small pockets of fire within the building" and a 45 metre exclusion zone will remain in place. The NIFRS operation is likely to be scaled back to three fire appliances this evening, a spokesman added.

NIFRS area commander Aidan Jennings said structural engineers are currently working at the scene to establish the extent of the damage and whether the facade of the building can be saved.

"There is still a risk it could collapse and that's why we have the cordons in place," he said.

"At the facade of the building you can see the structural damage and the collapsed and twisted steel but we can't access that area because of risk of it collapsing."

The fire crews used water supplies from the nearby Lagan River to help extinguish the major blaze.

"It's very difficult conditions and the temperature is extreme," Mr Jennings added.

"On a number of occasions we had to withdraw fire crews from the concrete stairs due to the collapses inside the building causing heat.

"This has been very much a team effort, not just with fire crew but all agencies."

At 11am today NIFRS said more than 30 firefighters, five fire appliances, a command support unit and an aerial appliance were still at the scene.

“There has been structural collapse within the building this morning and a 45 meter exclusion zone remains in place," a spokesman said.

Fire ripped through all five floors of the iconic Bank Buildings on Royal Avenue. A cordon remains in place and a number of businesses had to close yesterday while the fire blazed and thick smoke billowed across the city centre. 

The Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce said the cordon is being reduced to a 45 metre zone around Bank Buildings and "shops and cafes that are outside of this reduced cordon will be able to open as normal from tomorrow morning".

Several workers had some personal belongings, including their bags and house keys, destroyed in the blaze.

Belfast locksmith Pad Lock Security today offered to provide replacement house keys for free.

A spokesman for the business said several Primark staff had contacted them about the offer.

Footage from noon:

Belfast Mayor Deirdre Hargey said a multi-agency recovery coordination meeting had taken place this morning involving police, NIFRS, Belfast City Centre Management, Primark, Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Department for Infrastructure, Translink and Public Health Agency and other local businesses.

The mayor said an evening street fair which had been due to take place in Castle Street tomorrow evening has been postponed.

"This is an exciting event and we are determined to reschedule and continue with our plans to animate this area of the city, to increase footfall and to rally round the traders in this part of the city centre," she added.

Video: Extension at Primark appears undamaged after fire destroys main building

Ash from the blaze continued to blow over the city centre today. Smoke could still be seen rising from the building as firefighters continued to hose the structure.

Police cordons remain in place around the scene. Today, curious shoppers and onlookers gathered to take pictures of the building and see the effects of the fire for themselves.

The Primark building as seen from Fountain Street 

Damage can be seen from various sites around the city, including Royal Avenue, Fountain Street and Castle Street. The smell of smoke remains unmistakeable through much of the city centre.

The Primark building as seen from the police cordon at Royal Avenue 

Surrounding businesses had to close yesterday while the fire raged and Castlecourt was among those which pulled down their shutters. It is, however, open for business today.

Land & Property Services (LPS), which is responsible for collecting rates, today advised any businesses affected by the fire to contact them.

A spokesman said: "If their premises have been severely damaged by the fire, they should make an application to the District Valuer with LPS to have the NAV (Net Annual Value) reassessed".

He said some businesses may also be eligible for a hardship relief scheme

 An aerial view of the devastation caused to Primark and the Bank Buildings. Picture by Gregory Weeks

Footage from 8am:

READ MORE:

Cartoonist Ian Knox on the fire in a Primark store which destroyed Belfast's iconic Bank Buildings

The £30 million extension to Primark, seen here from Castle Street, appears to be unscathed as the main building - which was largely destroyed - sits just behind it 

Firefighters are continuing to hose the building today as smoke continues to rise from the charred remains 

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