Pallets vanish and will go up in smoke

A statue of the Virgin Mary on a pallet pyre in 2013


By Anthony Neeson

A Sinn Féin councilor has claimed that Belfast City Council officials withheld information from his party regarding the theft of wooden pallets from council property.

Up to 3,000 pallets have been stolen from a council depot where they were being stored for loyalist bonfires.

Loyalist paramilitaries are being blamed for stealing the pallets.

In recent years, 12th of July bonfires in the city have been almost exclusively made up of wooden pallets.

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Sometimes thousands of pallets can make up one bonfire as loyalist districts compete with each other to see who can make the biggest bonfire.

Belfast City Council removed the bonfire material for health and safety reasons and was due to return the pallets to the bonfire builders in the days leading up to the lighting of the bonfires.

However, when nationalist councilors discovered that council was storing the wood they threatened to not return it to the bonfire builders, leading to last week’s theft of thousands of pallets from the council store.

After an emergency meeting of the council to discuss the controversy, Sinn Féin leader on Belfast City Council, Councilor Jim McVeigh, said that information regarding the removal of illegal bonfire material “was withheld from Sinn Féin during discussions with council officials.”

"This came on top of repeated instances of information relating to the council’s conduct on bonfires being withheld from Sinn Féin,” he said.

"Sinn Féin called for a number of actions to be taken on this issue.

"A decision was then taken at the Strategic Policy and Resources committee meeting that the council’s chief executive will head an investigation into this entire scandal with an independent element included.

"A decision was also taken that any remaining bonfire material being held by Belfast City Council will not be returned and, importantly, that the storing of material for bonfires will never happen again.

This is a disgraceful episode, which will need thoroughly investigated.

"The ratepayers and citizens of Belfast deserve no less than the highest standards from their council and on this occasion clearly those standards have not been met. Sinn Féin will be monitoring the investigation closely."

A spokesperson for the Belfast City Council said: “The council cannot comment any further at this time, due to the investigation which the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, at its meeting on Friday past, agreed would be carried out into the issue of collection and storage of bonfire material, and the future approach of bonfires across the city.”