Housing sectarianism plagues NI but incidence waning

Intimidation in spotlight as Catholic mother and baby forced out by loyalist paramilitaries

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the UVF, deplored the intimidation and said there was no place for sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Peter Muhly

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the UVF, deplored the intimidation and said there was no place for sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Peter Muhly

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The recent case of a Catholic family forced from their home in east Belfast prompted widespread condemnation and anxieties over a possible increase in such sectarian incidents.

Sectarianism and intimidation is still a significant problem in Northern Ireland and while it will be no comfort to the single mother and her one-year-old daughter who were compelled to flee from the Cregagh estate, official figures point to a gradual decrease in such incidents.

PSNI Chief Inspector Wendy Pollock said the family was “left traumatised, and no longer feels safe in their own home and have been forced to relocate”.

Both the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were accused of being behind the expulsion of the mother and daughter.

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the UVF, deplored the intimidation and said there was no place for sectarianism in Northern Ireland, as did many other politicians.

The Housing Executive, the public housing authority for Northern Ireland, said it was assisting the mother and daughter while acknowledging there were difficulties in finding accommodation acceptable to the family.

“In recent weeks, we have offered temporary accommodation to the family but this has been declined and they have chosen to make their own arrangements,” said a spokesman.

“They have requested single-let, temporary accommodation in an area of very high demand and we will continue to provide them with advice and guidance on housing options in the days ahead,” he added.

Attacks and threats

Sectarianism and other hate incidents are still very serious matters for the Housing Executive and PSNI. The number of cases each year remains high but at least there are indications of some form of societal improvement as regards this vexed and longstanding problem.

Each year, the Housing Executive records incidents where they have to try to rehouse people forced from their homes due to different forms of attacks and threats.

These include paramilitary intimidation and sectarian threats and people forced from their accommodation due to racism, homophobia and disability and also people “expelled” for anti-social behaviour.

Overall, five years ago there were 661 applications to the executive for rehousing, with 382 approved.

This compares with 286 cases presented in the year 2020/2021 and 256 approved, showing a significant decrease over the half decade.

All cases are investigated by executive staff through interviews with community workers and other locals, and also through liaison with the police and other agencies.

By far, paramilitary intimidation was the biggest problem. Five years ago, 477 cases were presented with 306 approved for relocation. In the past 12 months that has reduced to 236 cases and 230 approved for rehousing.

Race and orientation

In terms of sectarian intimidation – as was the case with the Catholic family in east Belfast – there were just nine cases presented and five approved for rehousing in the past year. Five years ago, 45 cases were presented and 10 accepted for relocation.

There were 28 racist cases five years ago with 13 approved for rehousing. This year, there were six such cases and four approved for relocation.

Five years ago, there were 13 cases presented in relation to intimidation over sexual orientation with five cases accepted for rehousing. This year there were six cases with four approved.

PSNI figures also show a reduction in the number of so-called paramilitary punishment shootings and beatings.

In the past year there were 47 such attacks, 18 of them shootings, four carried out by loyalists, 14 by republicans. There were 39 assaults, 31 carried out by loyalists, eight by republicans.

Ten years ago, there were a total of 83 attacks. There were 33 shootings, all of them carried out by republicans. There were 50 beatings, 34 by loyalists, 16 by republicans.

The current figures are markedly down from 20 years ago. In the year 2001/2002, there were 302 “punishment” shootings and beatings. There were 190 shootings, 124 by loyalists, 66 by republicans.

There were 112 beatings, 76 carried out by loyalist paramilitaries, 36 carried out by republicans.