Belfast City Council’s Bonfire Scandal: The Key Questions

The revelation that Belfast City Council is involved in facilitating the storage of pallets (including stolen pallets) to be burnt on loyalist bonfires typically adorned with posters of nationalist politicians, Kill All Taigs-emblazoned Tricolours, Celtic shirts and a statue of the Virgin Mary would be remarkable on its own, but news that the stored pallets have been ‘stolen’ just as city councillors were set to agree that the material would not be returned to loyalists more than suggests that something is seriously rotten in the state of Denmark City Hall.

Here’s a handy recap of events to date to keep you right:

Belfast City Council, or as yet to be identified council officials, agreed to store thousands of stolen goods in the form of CHEP pallets for the convenience of as yet to be identified loyalists. A similar number of other pallets were also stored, though it is not known if they were stolen, fell off the back of lorries, were merely liberated from businesses occupying them or voluntarily donated to bonfire builders.

Once cover was blown and the story emerged into the public domain, the stolen CHEP pallets and other pallets were stolen again- this time by the UDA (according to today’s Irish News) from the council-owned yard they were being stored in- that would be the same UDA that recently publicly endorsed Emma Little Pengelly, Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson in the Westminster elections in the city.

Presumably the PSNI are monitoring both of the associated bonfire sites, ready to intervene once bonfire material appears on the sites again. If they are not, then we need to know if the policing plan is merely to turn a blind eye to the theft.

After a heated behind-closed-doors meeting in City Hall of the Strategic Policy committee yesterday morning, an investigation by the Chief Executive has been agreed, with an independent input. Many will be somewhat wary that the investigation is not being fully led by an independent authority given that Belfast City Council is implicated at a number of levels in this scandal.

As has been the case with other loyalist bonfire funding scandals, expect the NI Audit Office to be called in to conduct an investigation into the misuse of ratepayers’ money at some point. Sinn Fein is now openly calling on ratepayers to sue the council.

In any event, I’ve summarised many of the key questions emerging from the story which need answers in the days ahead:

  1. Who conceived of the plan to store pallets for loyalists, using Belfast City Council workers/ contractors and council owned property?
  2. What council officials knew of the plan, approved of it and worked out the ‘arrangements’ with loyalists? There must be a lengthy chain of email/ paper correspondences to identify council officials and the loyalist contacts.
  3. Were any measures taken to ensure that pallets stored were traced/ accounted for to prove that they were not stolen material in the first instance?
  4. Who were the loyalist contacts involved in the process at every stage?
  5. How much of ratepayers’ money was spent on this scheme?
  6. Were the loyalists involved asked to sign up to a code of conduct ensuring that sectarian or racist material did not appear on the associated bonfires, and that tyres would not be incorporated into the final structure? Given that the Virgin Mary herself has made an appearance on Chobham Street’s bonfire in recent years, the idea of the local loyalists being given a blank cheque to decorate the council stored and delivered pallets with whatever hate items pleases them is quite shocking. We need to know.
  7. Has this happened before in Belfast City Council, and are other councils involved in similar under radar schemes? Today’s Irish News makes reference to shipping containers being used in previous years to store wood for loyalists, which clearly implies that this has been happening for a while. We need to know for how long and who at council and loyalist level is implicated.
  8. The fact that the pallets were, ahem, ‘stolen’ in broad daylight this week in a process that would have taken many hours defies belief. Are we to believe that no one from council nor within the PSNI was aware of this beforehand or indeed throughout the entire duration of the operation? What is the status of the PSNI investigation into the incident?

A criminal act has taken place. We await the condemnation from Unionist politicians and subsequent calls for anyone with information to bring it to the PSNI. Presumably these will be forthcoming, or at least such politicians challenged to make such statements in the coming hours.

 

  • Jag

    Do you know where pallets come from?

    They’re owned by a company called CHEP (stands for Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, and is a division of an Australian company, Brambles). I believe their Irish headquarters is in Dublin, at the Jamestown Business Park in west Dublin.

    Isn’t it about time that residents of Belfast made their feelings known to this company. If they took better care of their pallets, then bonfires would have to be built with traditional wood and would resemble what most people recognise as a bonfire (see below). It’s the regular shaped pallets which are designed for stacking that’s creating the awful and dangerous eyesores across Belfast.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9a92883d16dfb163ebc3e653f34b42e20bbcea73aca3bb958323771043fd347a.jpg

  • grumpy oul man

    That was very disappointing.
    And also a little cryptic.
    Plus nothing to do with the post, unless your claiming that thieving pallets is stealing from the rich and giving to the poor or the UDA are the modern equivalent of the merry men ( using to much of thier own product, sandy row marching powder has put permanent grins pasted on thier faces) and that last bit about Celtic could you explain it.

  • Georfe Jungle

    “Do you know where pallets come from?”

    A pallet factory ?

  • grumpy oul man

    They were stolen and your blaming the company for the big bonfires not the people who stole them or the people building them.
    Interesting.
    How about the council handling stolen property and the involvement of the UDA.

  • Georfe Jungle

    “They were stolen and your blaming” —– “They were stolen and you’re blaming”
    “big bonfires not the people” —– “big bonfires, not the people”
    And you missed a question mark at the end.

  • grumpy oul man

    I must say you wear your education very lightly.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    The famous Glasgow Celtic RAN LIKE FK when they had to come to Belfast to play the famous BELFAST LINFIELD ! Us boys in Sandy Row will sing them songs FOREVER !

  • grumpy oul man

    explain, when did this happen.

  • grumpy oul man

    good man, keep it up!

  • grumpy oul man

    Belfast linfield, famous?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Glasgow Celtic Football Club have announced that they will not take No Tickets for their supporters to attend the European Cup Qualifier Round 2 at Windsor Park BELFAST because CELTIC supporters have NO BALLS !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    We out lived the Famous Belfast Celtic from West Belfast ? Where are them fools today ? They should never have gave up a great football club from West Belfast ? Disgrace on all who played the wrong political game. There was and always will be a place in Northern Irish Football for Belfast Celtic and Derry City. Bear in mind you are debating with a guy who helped Belfast Distllery all the way from their home at Grovenor Rd

  • grumpy oul man

    well if you say so,

  • grumpy oul man

    I see, you would prefer trouble then, a riot maybe.
    Celtic seem to be taking a very mature approach to this.
    now anything about the stolen pallets and drug dealers working with council officials to store the stolen pallets without telling Councillors.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Thanks GoM cause I have just done a 24 hour Bender and I am starting to talk SH*te ! but keep up the good work on this forum it needs all shades of political opinion !

  • grumpy oul man

    ah, wee Jim, “it not there fault Stephen,its everybody else’s fault and we will look into it and take action when the person in charge comes forward”.
    and of course the “we cant annoy these people it will only make thing worse.
    I do love Jim’s annual speech a bit like the summer version of the queens wee talk on Christmas day.
    but the queen changes hers every year, Jim’s is always the same.

  • T.E.Lawrence
  • T.E.Lawrence

    I have already made the song up GoM “The Famous Glasgow Celtic went to Rome to see the Pope and this is what he said “Whose that team they call in Belfast ? Whose that team they all adore for they are the boys from Sandy Row and we canna’ never beat such foe so we wave a flag in Gallowgate (and hope Nolan never sees) As we have : NO BALLS TO FIGHT AGAINST SUCH MEN FROM SANDY ROW ?

  • grumpy oul man

    Very good, get yourself round to yer man Simon Cowell and get signed up pronto,
    And don’t forget your old slugger buddies when your famous. 😍

  • Casper

    When you have your sash on and arrive at the field on the 12th and you’re praying away like a good ‘un Goerfe, try saying a prayer for each of those three innocent Quinn children murdered in their beds by your UVF heroes during the loyalist Drumcree tantrum.

  • Oggins

    Lundy 😉

  • Hugh Davison

    Thanks, james.

    https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/susan-mckay-homophobia-and-racism-chime-with-sectarianism-1.2350312

    Describes 2 of the 3 incidents you reference, which happened in 2015. The 3rd happened in 2001. Of course, none of these things should have occurred.
    My browsing also turned up this:

    http://www.network54.com/Search/view/194305/1032031097/Sectarian+attacks+August+2002?term=fein&page=266

    which gives a run-down of all sectarian occurrences occurring in 2002. You can probably find balanced data for other years.
    The incidents you refer to appear to have been perpetrated by out-of-control youths, so that is a problem for NI society, on both sides. That it’s not being sorted can be due to a) Lack of will to instill social mores in our youth, b) unwillingness or inability of the PSNI to actively police sectarian activity, c) whatever. However you do not provide any evidence of institutionalised sectarianism among Republicans.

  • james

    I look forward to our Republican brethern on here queueing up to condemn this kultural hate fest….

  • file

    Can some legalHead out there tell me whether it is correct that all bonefires in Northern Ireland are technically illegal (including the ones farmers start down my way to get rid of stuff). Also given that all of Belfast is a smoke-free zone and the burning of certain substances in household fireplaces was prohibited several years ago, the Twalf bonefires are technically doubly illegal?

  • A point and a question.

    The point is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because someone else does something wrong, doesn’t mean you are entitled to do wrong yourself. We are entitled to expect effective service from local councils no matter what other groups and organisations do. Their misbehaviour on other matters has no connection with the subject of this post.

    The question is this. Is it true that the pallets were taken away to a store to prevent them becoming a fire risk at the bonfire sites, going up before the 11th?

  • james

    When the time comes for GAA criticisms….

    Pencilled in for 2029, the next article criticizing the GAA for its, frankly, scandalous naming conventions.

  • Georfe Jungle

    No, but they are underfunded.

  • Casper

    50%+1 vote Georfe. You’re going to love it.

  • grumpy oul man

    I am on principal opposed to 50+1, believing that persuasion is the better way.
    But if GJ is representative of the willingness to debate or discuss then the numbers thing will have to do.

  • grumpy oul man

    Under behaved is the issue!

  • grumpy oul man

    Nothing to say on the pallets, we all look forward to that.

  • Georfe Jungle

    Why do you think that will be so ?

  • Granni Trixie

    Lol. This reminds me of the one about a bagful of money from the Northern Bank being found in police quarters (was it their gym type place off Malone Rd? ) .

  • Granni Trixie

    My understanding is that teachers in Catholic schools are expected to to follow the Churches teachings – it’s what parents expect too (speaking as a former teacher).

  • Casper

    His posts over the weekend have changed my mind gom, I was in the same boat as you until this weekend. The silence from other unionist posters helped make up my mind. I had a lot of posts removed with no notifications or explainations. 50%+1 is good enough for me now.

  • lizmcneill

    Well, we’ve been told that Remain has to suck it up and stop talking Britain down. Precedent?

  • Georfe Jungle

    Personally I would love the chance to bankrupt Dublin.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    New Forge Lane – Now I could tell you a little yarn how that developed into a social and sports club for the Police and how us Loyalists buying a few beers from the Tin Hut at weekends watching the peelers kick a football about helped fund it !

  • grumpy oul man

    And i suppose we would be stuck with you, i doubt the people on the bigger island would want you.

    But how would a couple of thousand loyalists bankrupt anybody.

  • Granni Trixie

    There’s obviously a book in you….

  • grumpy oul man

    write a thread,i’m sure mick will post it.
    or you could mope about it,

  • grumpy oul man

    well i know a few that are not Catholics teaching in catholic schools,
    i don’t think that you could bar anybody from teaching in a catholic school because of religious or political beliefs.
    Certainly you would and should not be allowed to let your beliefs interfere with your role as a teacher or bring them into the classroom.

  • Granni Trixie

    I taught in a v large Catholic school with one or two (but no more) of “the other sort employed”. An issue which ‘some’ political parties tried to take forward without success was that ALL schools had to apply discrimination laws. As it stands,
    my understanding is that schools are exempt from these laws (GOR – ‘genuine occupatiOnal requirement”).
    Let me give an example in practice: I took small groups for “Education for Love” as sex education was called. I accepted that I could never talk about contraception as I would have chosen to. Would be interested to know if this kind of unwritten rule is still adhered to.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    We have the NI Direct guidelines for burning rubbish:

    https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/burning-rubbish

    Certainly, regarding most of what is being burnt, it has environmental health issues which may break the law. But as long as a fire is on private land there is no legal restriction on it, only on the possible contravention of environmental health issues or threat to nearby property.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    There’s a lot of us out there, hiding under the bundles of firewood.

  • grumpy oul man

    About the rule, i dont know.
    But my teachers are catholic/ atheist (if that makes sense) a NI Protestant and a english athiest (all in either maths or the science’s)
    None are obliged to follow RC beliefs.
    However none teach either relegion or sex.
    On a side note Jimmy Stewart who was NI Secretary to the Communist Party of Ireland won a award for a RE course he taught in Sommerdale secondary school.
    He taught it as a comparison of relgions and philosophy.
    Jimmy of course was a athiest.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I better not as I would only have to tell how us and the cops stole (sorry borrowed) a mobile unit for the changing rooms and mini bar from Taughmonagh (Tin Town)

  • Granni Trixie

    You are talking of your impressions based on experience – I am too …but in addition am referring to the law as it stands: that schools do not come under discrimination laws. – an anomaly?

  • Granni Trixie

    I rest my case.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    But who gets to throw these stones of criticism?

    There’s definitely shortcomings and questions to be asked which is why I urge other unionists to aim for the moral high ground in posts such as this one so they can dodge the whataboutery bullets should a GAA thread come to pass.

    Alas, mr jungle has made that more difficult for us after this escapade.

  • benny black

    a city council that favours one section of ratepayers over the other..