Monday, 3 February 2014

North Belfast housing need

On Saturday 1 February the North Belfast Civil Rights Association marched from the Antrim Road down through the New Lodge area down to the University of Ulster building in York Street.
There is a report on the Ardoyne Republican blog, which is associated with Martin Og Meehan and the Republican Network for Unity, and there is also a youtube film of the event.  The film lasts 17 minutes and is of very poor quality but it is worth watching if you want to get a sense of the NBCRA event.
The NBCRA is a front for some of the smaller republican groups in North Belfast and is chaired by Paul Little of the Irish Republican Socialist Party.  It is also supported by the Republican Network for Unity and the Sean MacDiarmada 1916 Society.
Although the organisers notified that there would be five bands, it was a small ramshackle parade with just two bands.  One of these was the Henry Joy McCracken Republican Flute Band, which is aligned with the RNU.  The other band was impossible to identify.
The organisers had estimated that there would be 500 participants but by the time they reached York Street the bands had disappeared and the group that remained for the speeches appeared to number around fifty or sixty.
The two main speakers were the two 'dissident' republican candidates in the Oldpark area in the forthcoming council elections in May - Sammy Cusick of the RNU and Dee Fennell, who is to stand as an Independent Republican.
Their speeches complained of discrimination and the main slogan was 'One family, one house'.  Cusick read his speech, poorly, and Fennell is clearly the more articulate of the two.  He attacked Sinn Fein and other politicians as well as myself, claiming discrimination in housing and leisure provision, and denouncing welfare reform.
This was simply part of the election campaign for the two republican candidates but must have been something of a disappointment.  They will certainly be hoping for more voters than there were marchers.
The truth is that there is no discrimination against Roman Catholics in housing in North Belfast - the number of Protestants on the waiting list is roughly the same as the number of Roman Catholics - but the myth of discrimination is so deeply embedded in the nationalist and republican narrative that it will take some time for the truth to prevail.

According to figures obtained from the Housing Executive the waiting list for the North Belfast constituency in September 2013 was 5304 with 2059 people self-designated as Protestants and 1986 designating as Roman Catholics.  There were also 28 people registered as mixed, 140 as no religion, 239 as other, 9 refused to answer and a further 917 were unknown.  So of those who designated as Protestant or Roman Catholic, 51% were Protestant and 49% were Roman Catholic.

This is very different from the nationalist and republican myth of a constituency where the waiting list is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and nationalist!  The number of Protestants waiting for houses is roughly the same as the number of Roman Catholics and the when it comes to considering the number in housing stress (over 30 points) the numbers are again roughly the same - 48% Protestant and 52% Roman Catholic.

So how did these nationalists and republicans manage to manufacture their myth about housing need?

The North Belfast constituency is served by four Housing Executive offices - Shankill, North Belfast, Newtownabbey 1 and Newtownabbey 2.  They simply took the figures for the North Belfast office, which includes large nationalist areas such as Ardoyne, New Lodge and Ligoniel, and presented them as being for the whole North Belfast constituency.  They ignored other areas such as Woodvale, Mid-Shankill, Rathcoole, Rushpark and Queen's Park, where the need is overwhelmingly Protestant.  They manufactured their figures by ignoring many Protestant communities and then peddled their myth about housing need.

Well at last the truth has been established and the myth has been exposed.

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