Northern Ireland

Sandy Row residents demand answers after bonfire damage

bonfire Image copyright Courtesy of Ken Early
Image caption The Sandy Row bonfire came very close to a ten-storey apartment block in Wellwood Street

Residents from an apartment block in Belfast which was damaged during an Eleventh night bonfire have held a meeting to express their concerns.

Crews stopped the bonfire spreading to the apartment near Sandy Row but the building's windows cracked.

Bonfires are traditionally lit in loyalist areas on 11 July, marking the Twelfth of July commemorations.

About 30 residents attended the meeting on Thursday to discuss who will pay for repairs.

Politicians and a representative from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) also attended the meeting.

The Housing Executive confirmed in a statement that it owns the land where the bonfire was built.

"We cannot comment any further at this time as we will fully investigate this matter," it added.

Image caption Damage to windows of the apartment near Belfast's Sandy Row
Image caption The aftermath of Tuesday's bonfire

There is currently a degree of uncertainty amongst residents as to who will pay to fix the damage.

One female resident told the BBC the damage was extensive and she felt parts of the building were still "unsafe".

"Most of the residents living on the side of the building facing the bonfire have experienced cracked or shattered windows, melted windowsills and a lot of smoke damage to their balconies.

"We still don't really know who foots the bill for this.

"For 11 months of the year I am not scared to live here. Sandy Row can have a fantastic community atmosphere, but unfortunately, for a couple of weeks in July it isn't great.

"We just want it to be safe - we don't want people sitting in their homes fearing for their lives and staying awake to make sure their children are safe.

"Maybe it means moving the bonfire further away, making it lower and more stable, we would be fine with that," she said.

Image copyright Courtesy of Ken Early
Image caption Fire crews sprayed water on the apartment block to prevent the fire spreading

"The NIFRS were incredible. They were here until it was safe for them to leave," she added.

One male resident who attended the meeting told the BBC that residents in the building were "victims".

"No-one here is saying the bonfire has to go. We aren't attacking anyone's culture.

"Culture doesn't have to damage peoples' homes. It doesn't have to crack windows in children bedrooms. This is a mixed community," he said.

The NIFRS Area Commander Aidan Jennings said he had attended the meeting to talk to the residents about the NIFRS response on the evening.

"We had a technical plan for this building and on the night we had fire crews who were quickly in attendance," he said.

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Media captionThe Sandy Row bonfire burns close to the Victoria Place apartment block

"Our position is that no fire is safe. The agencies work closely together - it was a difficult evening for our crews and I praise their actions on the night.

"Our deployment to the scene prevented fire spreading to the building".

Image caption Area Commander Aidan Jennings said he had attended the meeting to talk to the residents about the NIFRS response
Image copyright Courtesy of Ken Early
Image caption Firefighters worked to protect the apartment building in Belfast

Green Party MLA for South Belfast Clare Bailey told the BBC the residents she had spoken to were "fearful".

"Year-on-year they face this happening to their building. Every year the windows are cracked.

"Who's going to pay for this and who's going to take responsibility for this? If this is an annual occurrence, we need to know".

Image caption The Green Party's Clare Bailey said there was "fear" amongst the residents at Thursday's meeting
Image copyright Courtesy of Ken Early
Image caption The bonfire burns close to the apartment block

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough Brown told the BBC he believed one solution could be to "reduce the height" of the bonfire and potentially move its location.

"We need to look again at the multi-agency approach. You couldn't have been in the room tonight and not felt the sense of fear that residents felt. We don't want this to be groundhog day."

Sinn Féin councillor Deirdre Hargey was also among those who attended the meeting.

"There is fear amongst the residents, fear that their building will be targeted further and I think there is anger this was allowed to happen," she told the BBC.

"They are just astonished this was allowed to happen. Those who lit the fire are ultimately responsible for what happened," she added.

Politicians who attended the meeting said they were trying to find out who is responsible for paying for repairs.

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