On Wednesday afternoon the three Sinn Fein members of the Social Development Committee, Alex Maskey, Mickey Brady and Fra McCann lodged a complaint with the Equality Commission about what they describe as 'the failure of DSD minister Nelson McCausland to address the housing crisis, which is hitting nationalists hardest.'
They allege that there is a housing inequality and that Roman Catholics and Nationalists are the victims of some unspecified form of discrimination.
Alex Maskey said, This is the first time as far as we know that a political party has made a complaint to the commission using this aspect of the legislation. There is a housing crisis in the North. It is by far hitting Catholic families hardest who are on the social housing list. The minister and his department are failing to address this.'
Fra McCann said that the view held by Sinn Fein was shared by many including trade unions,
housing rights campaigners and NGOs. However he didn't specify which trade unions and other organisations believe there is discrimination against Roman Catholics.
The only organisation that I am aware of, apart from some nationalist and republican community groups, is Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR), a pressure group which works closely with residents of the New Lodge area.
McCann did name Raquel Rolnik, a Brazilian Marxist who came to Belfast in the guise of a UN Special Rapporteur on Social Housing and he said that she 'highlighted the plight of many Catholic families in North Belfast.' In fact the Brazilian visitor was taken on a tour of the New Lodge community by PPR activists, handed the erroneous figures produced by PPR and not allowed near a Protestant community. With a record like that PPR are in no position to lecture anyone about equality!
This is a squalid and sectarian little pre-election stunt by Sinn Fein who have manufactured myths about social housing need, especially in North Belfast. The truth is that there is housing need in the North Belfast constituency amongst both Protestants and Roman Catholics and I am determined that this housing need will be met in a fair and equitable manner.
On the other hand Sinn Fein want to sectarianise the issue by making false and unfounded claims of anti-Catholic discrimination. Those false claims are then used by Sinn Fein and the SDLP to demand preferential treatment for nationalists. To that end they are using their complaint to the Equality Commission as a threat to intimidate my department and to intimidate the Housing Executive.
My department issued the following response for me:
I await with interest to see how the Equality Commission responds to this complaint. I will be more than happy to provide any information or figures they might seek and these will clearly demonstrate my personal commitment, and that of my department and the Housing Executive, to tackle housing need in a fair and transparent manner.
North Belfast gets mentioned again, but their muddled thinking has already been discredited. The reality is that the need for social housing in both the nationalist and unionist communities in the North Belfast constituency is roughly the same. Figures from the Housing Executive confirm that there are 1994 Protestants and 1988 Roman Catholics on the waiting list. Sinn Fein, for whatever reason, refuse to accept facts that are beyond dispute.
My aim is to build more houses for all our citizens irrespective of religious or political persuasion and I have already put plans in place to make that a reality. Last year almost 1,300 new social homes were delivered. This year I plan to deliver 2,000 and the same again for each of the next two years. That is my commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and I will not be deflected by grandstanding from Sinn Fein who continue to go over the same old ground again and again.
Sinn Fein may be determined to pursue a sectarian agenda. I prefer to improve the supply of new social housing and to improve the quality of the existing stock.