Housing inequality in North Belfast hits the headlines again!

Articles

N Belfast

Religious discrimination in North Belfast was in the spotlight again this week when human rights group PPR (Participation and Practice of Rights) published a comprehensive report highlighting demonstrable housing inequality in the area.

The report revealed frightening details of how statutory bodies such as the Department for Social Development (DSD) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) are responsible for using misleading figures that obscure Catholic inequality.

This occurred through

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the use of a flawed methodology in which applicants were tasked with revealing a ‘self-reported’ religious background. This meant that many of those applicants on the waiting list remained ‘anonymous’ in the figures. Until 2009, however, a different approach was used that recognised the ‘perceived’ background of applicants by assessing their personal details such as which area they were from. Under this model, official figures for 2009 showed that 73% of those on the waiting list were Catholics.

Nevertheless, from 2010 onwards, the new ‘self-reported’ methodology showed that there has been a significant reduction in housing inequality amongst the Catholic community to a figure as low as 57%. Conversely, when the PPR research employed relevant indicators such as religious background to assess the waiting list in North Belfast, it showed that Catholics made up 76% of the list in comparison with 22% from the Protestant community. Therefore, nothing had actually changed and ‘official’ state figures were used to mask systemic discrimination.

This has occurred despite the Housing Executive launching a seven year strategy back in 2000 at a cost of £133 million to rectify housing inequality in North Belfast. It has also come to light that DSD and NIHE ignored independent reports in 2005 and 2006 that showed how this strategy was failing to make any difference for homeless Catholics in this part of the city. In addition, we learned how significant land opportunities were being wasted in the centre of Belfast, were independent research indicates that there is space for 60,000 new homes, whilst at Belfast Harbour there is 20 acres of available land.

Moreover, the PPR report point outs how current statutory body policy is re-configuring housing allocation criteria away from the fundamental equality requirement which was the foundation stone of the Housing Executive itself . According to this policy, other priorities will be used to shape

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housing allocation such as ‘social mobility’ and ‘building a shared future’.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) supported this policy shift in the new ‘Building a United Community’ policy despite there being a legal requirement on the state to tackle religious discrimination. This injustice came to prominence last year at the Girdwood Barrack Site when it was stated that housing need among Catholics was ‘divisive’ and that ‘cross-community’ agreement was preferable to implementing the legal requirement to address objective need.

This PPR report raises serious questions regarding our unequal society in the north. How can we build a ‘shared future’ and ‘sustainable peace’ if religious inequality and discrimination are concealed? Does the Peace Process and the Power-Sharing Executive at Stormont have any value if it consolidates injustice for those on the margins? The truth cannot be hidden forever and it is blatantly wrong that we are still waiting for the equality we were promised.

Neamhionannas tithíochta i dTuaisceart Bhéal Feirste i lár an aonaigh arís

N Belfast

Tá idirdhealú reiligiúnach i mBéal Feirste thuaidh i lár an aonaigh arís an tseachtain seo leis an tuairisc cuimsitheach a d’fhoilsigh an grúpa cearta daonna PPR (Participation and Practice of Rights) fá neamhionannas tithíochta follasaí sa cheantar.

Is scanrúil ar fad gur léirigh an tuarisc go bhfuil rannóga reachtúla ar nós an Roinn Forbartha Sóisialta (DSD) agus Bardas Tithíochta Thuaisceart Éireann (NIHE) freagrach as figiúirí tithíochta míchruinn a úsáid, a choinníonn an fhírinne beacht fá neamhionannas Caitliceach faoi cheilt.

Rinneadh seo fríd modheolaíocht lochtach inár raibh ar iarrthóirí cúlra‘féin-tuairiscithe’ a úsáid agus stadas reiligiúnach s’acu féin a léiriú. Chiallaigh seo go mbíonn mórán iarrthóirí ón liosta feithimh sa rannóg ‘anaithnid’ ó thaobh na bhfigiúirí de. Go dtí 2009, áfach, bhí cur chuige difriúil in úsáid a rinne cúlra ‘airithe’ na n-iarrthóirí a aithaint fríd sonraí pearsanta cosúil le ceantar cónaithe s’acu a mheas. Sa mhúnla seo, léirigh figiúrí oifigiúla in 2009 gur Chaitlicigh iad 73% don liosta feithimh.

Mar sin féin, ó 2010 i leith, léiríonn an modheolaíocht úr ‘féintuairiscithe’ go bhfuil titim suntasach sa neamhionnanas tithíochta i measc an phobail Chaitlicigh chuig líon chomh híseal le 57%. Os a choinne sin, nuair a d’úsáid taighde an PPR tascairí ábhartha ar nós cód poist chun cúlra reiligiúnach an liosta feithimh i dtuaisceart Bhéal Feirste a mheas, taispeánadh gur chomhlíon Caitlicigh 76% don liosta i gcomparáid le 22% ón phobal Protustúnach. Níor athraigh aon rud mar sin agus úsáideadh figiúirí ‘oifigiúla’ an stáit chun idirdhealú corasach a chur i bhfólach.

Tharla seo ainneoin gur sheol an bardas tithíochta straitéis seacht mbliana thiar in 2000 le costas £133 milliún punta chun dul i ngléic le neamhionnanas tithíochta i mBéal Feirste Thuaidh. Léiríodh fosta go ndearna DSD agus NIHE neamháird ar tuairiscí neamhpléacha in 2005 agus 2006 a thaispeáin go raibh ag teip go hiomlán ar an straitéis seo aon difeár a dhéanamh do Chaitlicigh gan dídean sa taobh sin cathrach. Lena chois sin, léiríodh go bhfuil féideartheachtaí suntasacha talaimh ag dul amú i lár an cathrach, áit a deir taighde neamhpléach go bhfuil spas ann do 60,000 tithe úr agus chomh maith leis sin ag Cuan Béal Feirste ina bhfuil 20 acra talaimh ar fáil.

Go deimhin, léiríonn tuairisc an PPR go bhfuil polasaithe reatha na rannóga reachtúla ag déanamh riachtanas tithíochta a athmhúnlú arshiúl ón bhunchloch comhionnanais a bhí mar spioc bunaithe ag an Bhardas Tithíochta féin. Dar leis na polasaithe seo, beidh príorachtaí eile in úsáid do dháileadh tithíochta cosúil le ‘soghluaisteacht shóisialta’ agus ‘ag tógáil todhchaí roinnte’.

Thacaigh Oifig an Phríomhaire agus Leas-Phríomháire (OFMDFM) leis an athrú polasaí seo sa straitéis úr ‘Ag Tógáil Pobal Aontaithe’ bíodh is go bhfuil dualgas dlithiúil ar an stát éagóir reiligiúnach a taicleáil. Tháinig an neamart seo chun cinn go hiomráiteach anuraidh ag suíomh Bhearic Girdwood nuair a dúradh go raibh an gearrghá tithíochta i measc Caithlicigh ‘scoilteach’ agus gurbh fhearr díriú ar socrú ‘tras-phobal’ seachas plé leis an dualgas dlithiúil chun dul i ngléic le riachtanas oibiachtiúl.

Ardaíonn tuairisc an PPR ceisteanna tromchúiseacha don sochaí eagothrom s’againn ó thuaidh. Cén dóigh gur féidir linn ‘todhchaí roinnte’ agus ‘síochán inmharthana’a thógáil má choinníonn muid idirdhealú agus neamhionnanas reiligiúnach faoi cheilt? An bhfuil luach ar bith ag an Phróiseas Síochana agus an Feidhmeannas Roinnte Cumhachta ag Stormont má bhuanaíonn siad eagóir dóibh siud ar an imeall? Ní féidir an fhírinne a sheachaint a thuilleadh agus níl sé ceart ná cóir go bhfanann muid ar an chomhionnanas ar gealladh dúinn.

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