Apartheid in North Belfast

Articles

In last week’s article, I mentioned the dangers of the ‘shared society’ rhetoric and the ‘good relations’ policies in the new Northern Ireland obscuring the persistence of deepening inequality. The point was made that human rights and objective need should be at

the heart of decision-making in relation to resources and investment in our communities. In the north’s peace process, with the minutiae of our conflict resolution talks at their height, sectarian ‘carve-ups’ often took precedence over the needs of the poor.

This was never clearer than in north Belfast last week when it was announced that the political parties had agreed to the worst kind of sectarian ‘carve-up’ for the regeneration project on the old Girdwood barracks site. The site has been in public hands since 2006 when the British army gave the 27-acre ground they had stolen back to the people. It was obvious from every consultation carried out since that this site gave the authorities a perfect opportunity to tackle the chronic housing shortage in the north of the city.

There was irrefutable logic behind the argument that housing was especially needed by nationalists because 74% of the 2047 people on the housing waiting list are in the nationalist community. When Alex Attwood

was Minister of the Department for Social Development, the housing executive agreed with the proposal that at least 200 houses be built on the new site, a significant majority of course to serve nationalists on the waiting list. Despite this, the new Minister Nelson McCausland blocked these plans and new plans were developed for Girdwood as a ‘shared space’ in which there would be

sports facilities, parking space and a small number of houses for Catholics and Protestant on two different sides of the site.

Although all the details are not yet public, the best estimate is that there will be 70 houses for nationalists and 40 for unionists. The figures show that there are only 3 households in objective need in the unionist side of Oldpark and 165 in the nationalist side in

Cliftonville. Despite community groups, human rights groups and local residents making strong arguments with these figures for a long time, it was the Spotlight

documentary and the Nolan show that brought this blatant injustice to light last week, on the back of the groundwork carried out by local activists in recent years.

The programme also showed that social engineering was being recommended in leaflets distributed by the housing executive in unionist areas alone imploring them to move back to the Oldpark area to fill empty houses although there is no demand. There’s no doubt that these attempts at apartheid violate the very basis of equality and take us back 50 years to the worst days of the orange state.

Although 133 million pounds has been spent on a citywide housing strategy since 2000, housing problems and shortages have worsened for the nationalist community in the north of the city. Those problems will certainly be compounded by the decision at Girdwood, which lost an opportunity to provide for poor families on the margins of society. This decision disgracefully undermined the legal commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement to enforce equality in the north.

In this case, the nationalist poor and their needs were victim to a rotten, sectarian trade-off by the political class at Stormont. A ‘shared society’ cannot be built by denying people their basic human rights and entitlements. Perhaps the time is coming for a new civil rights campaign to tackle inequality?

Cinedheighilt faoi lán seol i dtuaisceart na cathrach!

In alt na seachtaine seo caite, luaigh mé go raibh contúirt ann go raibh reitric an ‘tsochaí roinnte’ agus polasaithe ‘dea-chaidreamh’ i dtuaisceart Éireann nua ag coinneáil éagothromais leanúnaigh i bhfolach. Rinneadh an pointe gur chóir go mbeadh cearta daonna agus riachtanas oibiachtúil i gcroílár na gcinntí a dhéantar maidir le hacmhainní agus infheistíocht don phobal. Sa phróiseas síochána ó thuaidh agus mionchúiteamh na gcaibidlí réitithe coimhlinte i mbarr a réime, b’iomaí ‘carve-up’ seicteach a ghlacann tús áite ar mhianta na cosmhuintire.

Ní raibh seo ní ba shoiléire ariamh na i dtuaisceart Bhéal Feirste an tseachtain seo caite nuair a fograíodh gur aontaigh na páirtithe polaitiúla ar an ‘carve-up’ seicteach den chineál is measa leis togra athghiniúna ar shuíomh seanbheairic Girdwood. Tá an suíomh i seilbh phoiblí ó bhí 2006 ann nuair a thug arm na Breataine an talamh 27 acra a ghoid siad ar ais don phobal. Bhí sé soiléir ó achan comhairliúchán a rinneadh ó shin go dtug an suíomh seo deis shainiúil do na húdaráis chun dul i ngleic leis an ghanntanas ainsealach tithíochta i dtuaisceart na cathrach.

Bhí loighic dosheachanta ag an argóint gur tithe do náisiúnaithe a bhí ag teastáil go háirithe mar gur sa phobal náisiúnach atá 74% den 2047 duine atá ar an liosta feithimh tithíochta. Nuair a bhí Alex Attwood ina Aire ar an Roinn Forbartha Sóisialta, d’aontaigh an feidhmeannas tithíochta leis an mholadh go mbeadh ar a laghad 200 tithe tógtha ar an suíomh úr, an móramh suntasach ar ndóigh ag freastal ar náisiuntóirí ar an liosta feithimh. Mar sin féin, chuir an tAire úr Nelson McCausland bac ar na pleananna seo agus tháinig pleananna úra chun cinn do Girdwood mar ‘spas roinnte’ ina mbeidh áiseanna spóirt, spás pairceála agus roinnt bheag tithe do Chaitlicigh agus Protastúnaigh ar dhá thaobh éagsúil den suíomh.

Bíodh is nach bhfuil na sonraí iomlána i mbéal an phobail go fóill, deir an tomhas is fearr go mbeidh 70 teach do náisiúnaithe agus 40 teach ann d’aontachtóirí. Léiríonn na figiúirí nach bhfuil ach 3 teaghlach i riachtanas oibiachtúil sa taobh aontachtach den tSeanpháirc agus 165 i gceantar náisiúnach in Cliftonville. Ainneoin go bhfuil grúpaí pobail, grupaí cearta daonna agus áitritheoirí áitiúla ag déanamh argóintí láidre leis na figiúirí seo ar feadh i bhfad; is an clár faisnéise Spotlight agus clár Nolan a ghlac an t-éagothromas follasach seo chun suntais go poiblí an tseachtain seo caite i gcead don dea-obair a rinne díograiseoirí áitiúla le blianta beaga anuas.

Léirigh an clár fosta go raibh innealtóireacht shóisialta á moladh i mbileogaí a scaip an feidhmeannas tithíochta i gceantar aontachtacha amháin ag impí orthu bogadh ar ais go ceantar na Seanpháirce le tithe folmha a líonadh cé nach bhfuil éileamh ann. Níl amhras ach go sáraíonn na hiarrachtaí cinedheighilte seo gach bunús atá le comhionannas agus glacann sé siar 50 bliain muid chuig an tréimhse is measa den stát oraisteach.

Bíodh is gur caitheamh 133 milliún punt ar straitéis tithíochta cathrach ó bhí 2000 ann, d’éirigh ganntanas agus fadhbanna tithíochta níos measa don phobal náisiúnach i dtuaisceart na cathrach. Is cinnte go mbeidh na fadhbanna ag dul in olcas leis an chinneadh ag Girdwood a chaill deis chun freastal ar teaghlaigh bochta ar imeall na sochaí. Chaith an cinneadh seo smál ar na coimitmintí dlíthiúla a rinneadh ag Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta chun comhionnanas a chur i bhfeidhm ó thuaidh.

Sa chás seo, ba íobartaigh iad an chosmhuintir náisiúnach agus a gcuid riachtanas do bhabhtáil sheicteach, shuarach ag na haicmí pholatiúla ag Stormont. Ní féidir ‘sochaí roinnte’ a thógail trí shéanadh riachtanas agus ceart daonna ar an phobal. Seans go bhfuil an t-am ag teacht le haghaidh feachtas cearta sibhialta nua chun dul i ngleic le héagothromas?

Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh

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