Government rules out compensating residents after bonfire damage

Fire officers at the apartment block beside the Sandy Row bonfire in south Belfast.
Fire officers at the apartment block beside the Sandy Row bonfire in south Belfast.

The Government has ruled out compensating residents of an apartment block damaged by a loyalist bonfire.

Windows in the high-rise building in central Belfast shattered and other scorch damage was sustained during the Sandy Row bonfire on Tuesday night.

Firefighters spent the night dousing the tower on Wellwood Street with water in an effort to prevent it catching fire.

Affected residents have demanded accountability and questioned who will pay for what is likely to be a significant repair bill.

On Friday, the Northern Ireland Office countered speculation that the Government could pick up the tab.

"The Northern Ireland Office does not operate a bonfire compensation scheme," said a spokeswoman.

"The issue of bonfires is complex and often involves a number of organisations operating within the devolved administration such as the local council and the respective landowner.

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

Huge bonfires burned in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland on Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday to usher in the main date in the loyal order marching season - the Twelfth of July.

Firefighters in the region dealt with 40 bonfire-related incidents - up 21% on last year - on a night when they received 213 emergency calls in total and mobilised to 133 incidents overall - a 49% hike on 2016.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) described the night as "exceptionally busy", with crews dealing with 95 operational incidents between 10pm and 1am.

Homes were boarded up at a number of bonfire sites amid concerns around safety and risk to property.

The towering bonfires, most built with stacks of wooden pallets, are ignited each year to herald the Twelfth of July, when loyalists and unionists commemorate Protestant King William of Orange's victory over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.

Belfast City Council said it also did not operate a bonfire compensation scheme.

A spokesman said: "The council works with a range of partner agencies and communities to mitigate the most negative impacts of bonfires. However, it has no role in relation to the bonfire itself."