Thousands living in Northern Ireland forced from their homes
Just 32 criminal convictions for housing intimidation were secured in five years
Thousands of people living in Northern Ireland have been forced from their homes over the past five years, but just 32 criminal convictions for housing intimidation have been secured over a similar period, Belfast-based investigative website Detail Data has established.
Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, a total of 2,060 incidents of housing intimidation were accepted by Northern Ireland’s Housing Executive. The Executive spent £6.7 million buying 57 houses from homeowners forced out of their property by paramilitary activity, sectarianism or because of their race, sexual orientation or disability. The executive also paid out £808,174 in emergency grants to more than 1,000 householders who had to move from their rented homes.
However, court figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show just 32 convictions were secured for the offence of “intimidation – causing person to leave residence/occupation” between March 2011 and August 2016.
Twenty years into a post-conflict transition, we are still dealing with violent housing intimidation at such high levels
The location of many of the reported incidents suggests the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries – a sample of data from the past two years showed the overwhelming majority were recorded in Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Ards and North Down and the Antrim and Newtownabbey council areas. The PSNI does not record housing intimidation in its own right, rather including it in an overarching category encompassing all forms of intimidation offences.
Reacting to the figures, Daniel Holder, the deputy director of human rights NGO the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), said it was shocking that “20 years into a post-conflict transition we are still dealing with violent housing intimidation at such high levels”.
These were incidents that were “reaching the threshold where the public authority thinks there is a serious risk of serious injury or even death, if someone remains in the property”. Such statistics “should cause an outcry every year, but they aren’t even being routinely published”.
Mr Holder believes most of the attacks have been conducted by paramilitary organisations “or people with paramilitary connections and a lot of those attacks will be racist or sectarian”.
Queen’s University Research Fellow Dr Neil Jarman previously found that the bulk of cases of reported incidents of intimidation in 2010 and 2011 occurred in areas with a strong loyalist paramilitary presence.
I think it is an example of the sort of grip that paramilitary groups or some people within paramilitary groups have in local communities
“The problem is we move the victim out of an area and we rehouse the victim whilst the perpetrator is left to carry on and if there is someone else in that area they decide to take issue with then there could be further cases of intimidation,” he said.
“I think the key is that the failure to identify where the intimidation is taking place makes it impossible to develop a coherent strategy to challenge intimidation,” he said.
Speaking to Detail Data, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said £50 million was being invested in a new paramilitary taskforce that aimed to tackle, among other things, the intimidation issue.
“I think it is an example of the sort of grip that paramilitary groups or some people within paramilitary groups have in local communities and it is something that we want to disrupt and dismantle,” he said.
He said an action plan was in place that would engage “the voluntary sector, the community itself – by building capacity, by building confidence – and other statutory agencies including the NCA [National Crime Agency] and HMRC [Her Majesty’s revenue commissioners] so we can bring as many tools out of the box to make life difficult for those involved in intimidation and other paramilitary activity,” he said.
Detail Data is a partnership project between Belfast-based investigative website TheDetail.tv and NICVA, the representative body for the voluntary and community sector.