Sinn Féin: Ratepayers should sue Belfast council for bonfire pallets storage
A SENIOR Sinn Féin councillor has said ratepayers should consider suing Belfast City Council for storing thousands of pallets for loyalists building Twelfth bonfires.
Jim McVeigh encouraged people to "speak to their solicitor" if they felt bonfires using pallets held by the local authority had affected their home or business.
It comes after The Irish News yesterday revealed new details on the scale of the council's controversial storage of pallets for loyalist bonfire builders.
Some 2,500 pallets are currently being stored for a contentious east Belfast bonfire site which previously led to families being forced from their homes.
The council is also storing around 300 pallets removed from a notorious pyre close to a city centre hotel.
They are being kept in a council yard and are set to be returned to the pyre beside the Holiday Inn before the Eleventh Night.
Shipping containers have also been provided by council authorities in previous years for loyalists to store pallets.
The council has also faced accusations of "handling stolen goods" after it emerged many of the pallets are the property of Chep, a global supply-chain firm.
Officials initially said there was "no evidence to substantiate claims made on social media that any of the pallets have been stolen".
But in a U-turn the council last week agreed to hand over Chep pallets to the company after it claimed ownership.
Councillors are set to discuss the controversy at a policy committee meeting today – and consider if other pallets held in storage will still be returned to bonfire sites.
Mr McVeigh, Sinn Féin's group leader on the council, described the local authority's actions as "outrageous" and warned of the cost of storing pallets to ratepayers.
"If anybody as a consequence of these bonfires had their property damaged, whether it's their home or business, or whether these bonfires have had an impact of their sales, then they should think about suing Belfast City Council," he said.
"They should seriously think about taking a case for compensation for damage done to their own businesses as a consequence to these outrageous decisions.
"We would encourage people to go and speak to their solicitor."
Mr McVeigh said that storing pallets made the council "complicit" in issues with some bonfires including offensive displays such as burning tricolours.
"There now is an issue of who was responsible, who was making these decisions and for these people to be held responsible for making those decisions," he said.
"We will be seeking to identify who exactly knew and who exactly gave permission for these activities to take place – and one we establish that, it would be our view that they need to be severely reprimanded."
Belfast City Council has said it "works with communities and statutory agencies to minimise the negative impacts of bonfires at sites across the city and decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis".
It said pallets were removed from bonfire sites "by agreement with the community". The local authority has declined to disclose the storage locations "in the interests of the safety of our staff".