EXCLUSIVE: ‘Confidential’ bonfire injunction meeting exposed
The explosive story of the ‘confidential’ Belfast City Council injunction meeting, in which agreement was reached to target Unionist cultural expression zones, can now be revealed for the first time.
In the week prior to the 11th July a meeting of the group leaders had been called and Councillors were informed by senior Council officer Nigel Grimshaw that the purpose was to discuss the Walkway bonfire in east Belfast.
DUP and PUP representatives including Lee Reynolds and Billy Hutchinson had already agreed to support an injunction against the Walkway site on grounds of limiting Council’s liability. Nigel Grimshaw had privately advised that the injunctions were unenforceable and would simply be a ‘window dressing’. Despite this many Unionists remain furious that any Unionist would support any form of injunction being brought.
As the meeting began suddenly the UUP’s Jim Rodgers joined with Nigel Grimshaw to ambush the other Unionists present by suggesting that further injunctions should also be sought against another 3 sites in the east of the city. The UUP’s Sonia Copeland quickly voiced her support for this proposal and at this juncture the Alliance party and Sinn Fein seized on the Rodgers-Grimshaw proposal to demand that the injunctions be extended to other sites including a children’s site in the Cregagh estate, the Sydenham site and Avoneil.
Council sources have claimed that Nigel Grimshaw had ‘primed’ Jim Rodgers prior to the meeting and there were times during the meeting when a haphazard Rodgers intervened ‘off cue’ and had to be saved by interventions from the senior Council officer.
It is understood that Mr Grimshaw is under increasing pressure following a series of blunders over the summer.
Whilst the arrangement to store pallets for cultural expression zones in east Belfast had been approved by local Councillors, arrangements in other parts of the City were not properly briefed to Councillors and as a result Mr Grimshaw was left devoid of any political cover.
As a sop to Sinn Fein, in an attempt to save his own skin, Mr Grimshaw agreed with Sinn Fein’s Jim McVeigh to target Unionist cultural expression zones in the East of the city in order that Sinn Fein would call off the dogs in relation to other blunders he had made.
This sinister ambush to target Unionist sites in east Belfast was briefed to the UUP’s Jim Rodgers prior to the leaders meeting and a compliant Rodgers agreed that he would come in with a proposal to target a further 3 sites in East Belfast alongside the agreement to target the Walkway site.
Following the Rodgers-Grimshaw proposal the other Unionists present were caught on the hop and felt they had no choice but to go along with the proposal. Senior Unionist sources now accept that this was a fatal mistake and that they should never have supported this proposal to target Unionist cultural expression zones. It has been described as a “monumental cock-up”.
It is understood that Belfast City Council Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie is privately furious with the underhand dealings of Nigel Grimshaw and is deeply concerned that there may be attempts by the former high ranking PSNI officer to ‘settle old scores’ from his time policing across Belfast.
The Chief Executive has displayed a commitment to fairness and transparency and Ms Wylie is concerned that the events surrounding Mr Grimshaw’s targeting of Unionist sites have undermined her and the integrity of her Council.
Council staff are understood to be furious that Ms Wylie is being targeted by a particular section of Councillors and have instead pointed to Mr Grimshaw as the real culprit.
There is particular concern at the circumstances around an alleged ‘threat’ to Council workers. Parks workers were pulled off sites in east Belfast and were told a threat had been issued by the UVF.
The East Belfast Community Inititiave, which mediates on behalf of the UVF in the east of the city, instantly dismissed the threat as bogus and made clear there was absoloutely no threat to council staff. Trade Union officials also dismissed the threat as bogus.
Whilst the council had ordered their parks workers out of east Belfast, they allowed other workers to remain in post at Inverary community centre and other venues across the area. Loyalists, who have categorically denied any threat was ever issued, have questioned why council would have only pulled one section of their workforce out of the area if they genuinely believed that there was a real and immediate threat to the safety of council workers.
Senior Council sources have voiced concern over the alleged source of this threat and some have suggested that no threat ever existed. Sources have claimed that the bogus threat was engineered by Mr Grimshaw as part of an attempt to give propaganda cover for the targeting of the east Belfast sites.
Council staff have expressed surprise that they received an email from Mr Grimshaw suggesting that they may feel under threat. One Council worked stated that they had never received such correspondence in their many years in council and felt that this was an attempt to ‘lay the ground’ to create a culture of fear for council workers and thus justify claims of a ‘threat’ being made to staff.
It has been suggsted that Nigel Grimshaw further fed this narrative in the mainstream media when he was quoted as having concerns that loyalists may turn on Council workers over the theft of pallets. All of this acted as a pre-cursor to a supposed ‘threat’ to Council workers prior to the injunction announcement.
Many Unionists within Belfast City Hall now have very real concerns that this threat was contrived and have vowed to get to the bottom of the flow of information in relation to this incident and where this fantasy threat originated.