Northern Ireland news

Boy escorted from Belfast's Chinese Consulate after trying to retrieve ball

The temporary wall surrounding the Chinese Consulate in south Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

A BOY was escorted by security staff at Belfast's Chinese Consulate off the grounds after he went to retrieve a ball.

The child received a "verbal warning" for what the consulate described as a "serious breach of security".

It emerged amid an escalating diplomatic row over an "eyesore" metal boundary wall erected around the consulate on Malone Road without planning approval.

A planning enforcement investigation has been launched and the city council has raised the dispute with the British foreign office.

The consulate has said it notified the British government and authorities in Northern Ireland about the work.

The metal structure, which replaced a hedgerow, is believed to be temporary before a more permanent wall is built.

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Residents, who are taking legal advice, fear the consulate will seek to ignore planning rules by claiming diplomatic immunity.

Plans submitted by the consulate in May last year, but later withdrawn, showed proposals for an almost 10-feet-high boundary wall topped with railings and razor wire.

South Belfast's leafy Malone Road area is a planning conservation zone in which development must meet stricter rules to be in-keeping with its existing architectural character.

The incident with the consulate's security personnel happened on April 5 on a Sunday afternoon when the boy climbed over a boundary wall to retrieve a ball.

It is understood the Chinese officials told off the 12-year-old, and spoke into a mobile phone to translate into English a message that he should not venture onto the premises again.

They then escorted him out the front of the site.

Families have retrieved balls from the grounds on various previous occasions without any issues, but in the past year the consulate is said to have become stricter in its security.

In a letter to a resident, a solicitor for the consulate cited the recent incident in defending its plans for a boundary wall.

He wrote: "Although it was a serious breach of security (the diplomatic compound is inviolable), our client quickly realised he had no ulterior motive and let him off with a verbal warning.

"Please will you convey a message to your fellow residents to be cautious against climbing over the fences of the consulate and to prevent such [a] breach from happening again in the future."

In a statement about the incident, a consulate spokesman told The Irish News: "It was very fortunate that our staff quickly recognised it was an innocent breach of our security that avoided a security incident."

The Chinese Consulate is based at MacNeice House, a listed building which dates from 1889.

Residents have urged the consulate to share their boundary plans and agree a structure that complies with the conservation area.

Martin McBurney, who lives beside the consulate, said: "I think you can meet their security needs and the needs of the conservation area at the same time."

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