Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Attack on workers prompts police to monitor bin collections

An incident in which Council refuse workers were attacked and threatened in Newtownhamilton last week led to the suspension of bin collections in the town for several days as council officials, members of the community and police worked to resolve the “volatile” situation.

On Tuesday last, a number of Council bin men were forced to lock themselves in their lorry for safety after they were confronted by “aggressive residents” on Armagh Street who attacked the vehicle and threatened the workers.  

Local councillor Barra Ó Muirí said the situation had been “building for months” and related to the unsorting of recycling waste that was consistently being placed in the wrong bin.  This led to the refuse collection workers’ refusal to empty the contaminated bins.

When learning of the incident, Councillor Ó Muirí said he had contacted the Council’s refuse department and had been informed of a volatile situation over recycling issues.

“It is reported that [residents of] one of the leased properties on Armagh Street have been contaminating their blue bin, and when the bin men don’t empty it, the residents get aggressive.  On Tuesday, a car hemmed the bin lorry in and several men began thumping the lorry and trying to get at the driver.  They [the workers] report that they are only doing a job and shouldn’t have to feel threatened at work, and that they won’t be returning to Newtown in a hurry,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Councillor David Taylor also condemned threatening behaviour directed towards refuse collection workers: “This despicable behaviour has caused a situation where the entire local community in Newtownhamilton is suffering through the withdrawal of the refuse collection service and this is an extremely unfair state of affairs,” he said.

Over the ensuing days, the councillors liaised with affected residents, Council officials and the police in an attempt to resolve the situation.  And, after receiving guarantees of their safety, the refuse collection workers returned to the town on Saturday to empty the bins.

Commenting on the amicable conclusion to the situation, Councillor Barra Ó Muirí praised the “community spirit” of residents: “There is no excuse for threats of violence on any of our staff, and all right minded people condemn that type of behaviour. Staff felt they couldn’t return to do their work until they felt safe and secure. Thankfully, working with the community, the Council and the PSNI the situation is resolved and normal scheduled services should be returned. I want to thank all who worked with me to get to this point,” he said.

“I have asked that Council literature explaining our Refuse Collection policies in relation to waste put in the appropriate bins are once again circulated locally.  The PSNI will monitor the situation. I also intend to meet with residents and landlords of properties where our staff seem to be encountering these type of waste bin contamination issues.  In a spirit of working together I am sure any problem that arises will be overcome,” he added.

 Responding to a request for comment, a Council spokesperson told The Examiner: “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council can confirm there was an incident in the Newtownhamilton area, which has been reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and is currently under investigation.  The Council has arranged for catch up collections to be completed on Saturday 10 March 2018 in the area affected.

“The Council is also planning to complete further recycling awareness in this area and householders are advised to keep their bin out until it has been emptied.”