Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Office does not run bonfire compensation scheme

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Media captionResidents speak out on bonfire damage

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has said it does not operate a bonfire compensation scheme after residents of a Belfast apartment block asked who would pay to repair damage caused by an Eleventh Night bonfire.

The bonfire in Sandy Row shattered windows and damaged the exterior of Victoria Place on Wellwood Street.

About 30 residents held a meeting about compensation on Thursday.

The area's MP said repairs will happen and the building is "fully insured".

South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly said she has spoken to some residents at Victoria Place.

The DUP MP said: "I know many of them were very worried, upset and fearful [about] what happened on the Eleventh Night and the risk of fire.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Sandy Row bonfire pictured burning close to the Wellwood Street apartment block

"That is wrong and should not happen.

"I have spoken to the property manager and he has assured me he will be doing everything possible to ensure the windows are fixed as soon as possible."

Mrs Little-Pengelly added: "The building is fully insured and these repairs will happen."

Eleventh Night bonfires are lit in many loyalist areas on the eve of the Twelfth of July, to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Most are held as a community event but some have caused controversy, as they pose a threat to health and safety.

Image caption Damage to windows of the apartment near Belfast's Sandy Row

Concerns had been expressed over the height of this year's Sandy Row bonfire, which was built on land adjacent to Victoria Place.

The land is owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive but the apartment block is a privately-owned building.

After the bonfire was lit on Tuesday night, firefighters doused the building in water to protect it from flames.

Assistant chief fire officer Alan Walmsley said he had "no doubt" the fire would have spread to the building if it were not for the presence of fire crews.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Residents have said the damage from this year is the worst they have experienced

The fire service also said that a glazed wall in the building had cracked because of the heat and residents complained that windowsills had melted.

The NIO said the issue of bonfires was "complex" and that it involved a "number of organisations".

It added: "Where an individual is seeking compensation for damage to property, the specific circumstances of each claim will define the process."

A resident in the apartment block, who did not want to be identified, told BBC News NI that "it's not good enough" that those who live there still do not know who will be paying for repairs.

"This is a maze to traverse, to try and understand where the responsibility lies," he said.

Image caption Residents of the apartment block held a meeting over their concerns on Thursday

"The property [land on which the bonfire was lit] is the Housing Executive's, the bonfire scheme is run by the council - who helps the residents?

"Is it the NIO? Is it the council? We just want help, we don't care where it comes from."

He added: "Those who let it take place should be footing the bill. I'm not saying that's necessarily the bonfire people who started it.

"But there's enough government bodies in Northern Ireland who should be overseeing this, making it safe and covering it when it doesn't."

Image copyright ken early
Image caption Residents are concerned about the structural integrity of balconies and windows after the heat exposure

On Thursday, residents held a meeting over the issue. Some spoke to BBC News NI, but did not want to be identified.

When asked if she was now afraid to live in the flats, a woman said: "For 11 months of the year no, I think it is a fantastic place to live.

"I think Sandy Row can have a fantastic community atmosphere. It is a great location, but unfortunately for a couple of weeks in July, it isn't great."

'Towering inferno'

She added: "We just want to make sure it is safe for residents, we don't want people sitting in their apartments fearing for their lives."

Her neighbour added: "We want the bonfire to be safer for all involved - this is a fiery inferno.

"Northern Ireland Fire Service have said if they were not here in the evening, the building would have caught fire.

Image copyright KEN EARLY
Image caption Firefighters sprayed the apartment building and surrounding paths to mitigate damage

"We are a month after Grenfell Tower and I am having to say publicly 'please stop building a towering inferno next to my home'.

"That is not a sentence someone should have to say."

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