Racism, sectarianism and housing need

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It’s odd the way stories sometimes intersect. This morning and yesterday, there was much radio discussion of Michael Abiona, a black man who had been allocated a social housing bungalow in East Belfast. When he turned up to claim it, he was met with a house festooned by banners: ‘Local houses for local people’. On Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster, Mr Abiona said he would now be afraid to take up residency, and that he saw the banners as a racist act of intimidation. 

Then Peter Robinson weighed in and explained that this wasn’t a case of racism, it was simply that local people felt they were entitled to the house, having been on the waiting list for so long. If it had been someone ‘from up-country’, Mr Robinson assured us, the feeling would have been the same. So what Michael Abiona saw as racism was broader than that: the locals didn’t want anyone coming in that didn’t come from the area. Sounds to me like racism infused by insularity on steroids.

But maybe not. Maybe it was simply a question of local people rejecting the notion that houses should be allocated on the basis of need. In their view,  need is not the most important thing. In which case they appear to be at one with our old friend Nelson McCausland. The Participation and Practice of Rights  organisation (PPR) were up at Stormont on 4 May, seeking to enlist politicians’ support for improved housing for Catholics in North Belfast. At present these people are living in conditions that involve damp, mould, no proper space for their children to play and inadequate provision for those with special needs. The PPR group’s ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ campaign has the backing of a UN representative and as a result of their Stormont visit Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Allliance, NI21 and the UUP all signed up to support their campaign. Guess who’s name isn’t on the supporting list? That’s right – the DUP. And guess who’s the Minister for Social Development and who refused to meet the residents that day at Stormont? That’s right – our dear old friend Nelson McCausland.  Nelson and his party are keen to build houses in unionist areas of North Belfast where housing need does exist  but is less acute,  and refuses to provide housing to meet the greater need in nationalist areas. Well, if you were in Nelson’s shoes, would you want to meet the ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ people?

In both the case of Michael Abiona and the residents represented by the PPR,  the case comes down to a simple question: what criterion should be top of the list in allocating social housing? Should the top criterion be that you’d like to live near your ma? Should it be the length of time you’ve been on the waiting list? Should it be whether you come from ‘up-country’ , or whether your skin is a particular colour? Should it be on the basis of your religion? No no, no and no again. Housing Executive rules rightly state that housing should be allocated on the basis of need. It didn’t happen in the case of Michael Abiona and it isn’t happening for the Catholics of North Belfast. And what voices do we hear raised in defence of this racist/sectarian approach? Why, the voice of our First Minister and the voice of his fellow-DUP man and our old chum, Nelson McCausland. Creating a better future? That’s a bit difficult, when your party vehicle appears to have one gear only: reverse.

20 Responses to Racism, sectarianism and housing need

  1. morpheus June 19, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    If you were Nelson McCausland, a DUP MLA for North Belfast, would you sign a cheque to build housing for people in North Belfast who are all but guaranteed not to vote for you or your party?

    Time to go to ‘Plan B ‘ for a few years and take decisions like this – and the A5 – out of the hands of these idiots.

  2. Maggie May June 19, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Sounds a bit like the Fountain Estate in Derry, where nare a Fenian, cum Catholic, cum one of’ themuns’ feet about the place

  3. paddykool June 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Jude : As I say somewhere else …are we allowed to laugh?

    I f this wasn’t so serious we’d be rolling about on the floor .I watched the Peter Robinson interview where he did everything but turn himself inside out rather than call a spade a spade.
    A racist is a racist is a racist……

    {In character, now …keep up! out there !} ..

    “Well Peter , when is a racist not really a racist at all?”

    “Well Paddykool…a racist might look like a racist….it might walk like a racist….it might intimidate some poor black/Jewish/Catholic/Muslim/Filipino outside their new home…..it might walk and quack like a duck …..but if it votes for the DUP…..no it’s not really a racist!”

    …”So ,Peter , it’s not a racist at all then?”
    “No Paddykool , we don’t have racists in Northern Ireland. They’d be bad for tourism and incoming commerce..Mind you we’ll have to invent another new kind of less frightening name for them……something like…..”

  4. Iolar June 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Fairy Tale of East Belfast 2014

    ‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

    `I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

    `Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter.

    Peter Robinson stated, there is a need to build a “respectful, tolerant society” and any act of racism should be condemned. When Michael Abiona was faced with posters and protesters, Mr Robinson said, “I’m not sure if this could be described as racism in terms of what the intention of the local people was.” He went on to say that “You might have had exactly the same reaction if it was somebody from ‘up country’… .” What is he talking about? What right had residents in East Belfast to question Mr Abiona about his tenancy? What right did they have to question Mr Abiona about confidential medical information? How were protestors able to establish who had been allocated the tenancy in order to convene their protest? There is an urgent need to investigate the ethical implications of the protest. Peter Robinson stated he was not sure if the protestors had racist intentions. It is evident that Mr Robinson is unsure and his comments indicate yet another failure of judgement.

  5. RJC June 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    This sort of behaviour from the DUP needs to be publicly exposed at a far greater level than is currently happening. In addition to those who live here, I should imagine that there are few down South or over in Britain who are aware of just how the main governing party here behave. Arguably, this is also a matter for both the UN and the EU.

    I live in hope that if Cameron and the Bullingdon Boys continue to the court the DUP, then Nelson, Pete ‘The Racist’ Robinson and the rest of them find their faces splashed all over the front pages and television screens of Britain.

    • paul June 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      Curious why there isn’t more condemnation and reporting on this in the South. This is getting to be a weekly event. What will the FM and his party do this time? Remember there was a protest over a council house in Caledon many years ago. The house went to a ‘loyal’ supporter instead of one of those “fenian types”who in actuality was more needy and that caused quite a stir. Seems nothing has changed. Loyalist or republican, you can not justify the actions of these people or Robinson’s comments. the ‘leader'(term used very loosely) of a ‘country”( again very loosely) has repeatedly make disparaging and/or inflammatory statements and he is still not called to the carpet. If the leader of a eatern bloc made these statements, the world would be full of righteous indignation instead silence.Very curious about the absence of a response from the EU or do they only comment on monetary matters?
      GRMA Jude, at least you’re doing your part keeping this in the public eye.

      • RJC June 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

        Paul, I think that in the South there still prevails a “Sure they’re all as bad as each other up there” mentality. I should imagine that in the wake of Sinn Féin’s new found popularity these prejudices may soon begin to evaporate.

        It never does any harm to remind people that at the time, The Irish Independent described the Easter Rising as “insane and criminal” and called for the execution of the rebel leaders. The Irish Times on the other hand urged its readers to stay at home and read Shakespeare until events had calmed down.

        I’m sure there are more damning editorials out there in the archives somewhere, but funnily enough those papers prefer not to draw too much attention to these nowadays.

  6. Jude Collins June 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Grma, Paul – fadhb ar bith..

  7. paddykool June 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Jude : I wonder if this is an unacknowledged cry of help from Mr.Robinson. You know what I mean .He’s holding a position of power that by his very nature and inner morality he is not really fit to do .He is not really fit for purpose and deep in his inner subconscious he knows it but cannot admit it. is he actually committing political suicide by a thousand tiny cuts?

    If anyone out there is keeping score of these weekly actions , it’s becoming very clear that either he doesn’t actually know the blunders he is making or maybe they are just seeping out like oil from the sub strata. It may be time to call in the Samaritans because if he keeps this up a breakdown is imminent.
    I dread to imagine what claptrap he’ll come up with for next week’s press.
    Maybe he’ll come out as a gay, black man who’s actually a secret muslim woman.Now that would put the cat among the pigeons.

    • Jude Collins June 19, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

      PK – you really must learn to show some respect for our FM. My Gawd, next you’ll want to have a vote!

      • paddykool June 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

        Jude:What’s this “vote” thing?

        • Jude Collins June 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

          Nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about. Leave it to the grown-ups…

          • paddykool June 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

            Okay, massa…..

  8. Pointis June 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    It never fails to astound me that these protestors and community activists who claim to speak on their behalf are allowed to continue claiming “the perception in this community is …………. (followed by the urban legend falsehood used to justify the latest piece of racism or sectarianism in loyalist areas).

    I have yet to hear a journalist challenge these community activists on the fact that they are pedalling a falsehood. In my view a journalist worth their salt would say ” that perception is wrong because her are the facts which are available from the NIHE, government or whoever”.

    I would almost seem that the journalists are quite happy to allow the false perception to remain in the public mind or present the facts and statistics as if they are just an opinion or as something which is open to challenge and could actually be wrong. The claims are either right or wrong, if journalists don’t believe the figures they should challenge those who produced them or produce their own.

    I get the impression that the facts on inequality of housing provision is something that quite a lot of people feel uncomfortable about presenting and would prefer they just remained on a shelf somewhere.

    It is this sort of sloppy journalism that left us having to justify the dinosaur exhibit to the likes of Nelson and his crazy creationists!

    • RJC June 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      I think perhaps one of the reasons for this is so as not to jeopardize the peace process. We are still in a ‘post-conflict’ situation, and I think that maybe there is a fear that certain elements in society are like coiled springs, ready for a return to violence. I may be wrong mind you, but there are so many wrongs perpetrated by the DUP yet they never seem to be called to account.

    • paddykool June 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      Pointis :
      Well that’s why most of what we call history is at best bunkum. If you took any local newspaper , for example , and trawled through the stodge of back issues for the last 150 years, you’d come out with a “history” that was entirely in the hands of a bunch of those same journalists you are speaking of.

      They’ll mostly go for the “soft option .There’ll also be political input from the newspapers owners which will slew the reportage to suit the paper’s political ends…..even on a local scale.
      It’s getting better now in that there is the internet, video evidence from your pocket phone, blogs like our good friend Jude here, and simply less places to hide .Look at the “News of the World” scandal to give you some idea how this all operates. Look at the expenses scandals of recent years. In times gone by all of that was swept under the carpet. It was only if there was a suspicion of sexual activity {especially homo- sexual activity} to entertain the rubberneckers in their readerships, and only if a bribe couldn’t be sorted out that transgressions were made public.
      It is a constant frustration that local reporters tend not to dig deep and with a sharp spade. Some do but there are many times we all feel that we are being fed little soundbites with no substance.. Of course politicians her usually hide anyway when the pot is being stirred. Nolan can never get them on his programme until they have all been given time to cobble together some cock and bull press release and have a group hug.
      On show like Nolan’s show there is the appearance that the audience is “loaded” on occasion.

  9. Pointis June 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Thanks PK and RJC, I would agree with you both. I was talking with a friend in England and he was astounded that this sort of thing still goes on over here. He found it hard to believe that the spokespersons for those involved in intimidating people from living in their homes actually give tv interviews.

    He felt that even local journalists in England would give those justifying racism or sectarianism a very rough ride and would certainly be challenging them with published facts!

    Could you imagine Nelson getting away with the tosh he comes out with if he were in government in England?

    • RJC June 19, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

      I would hate for the Tories to get in for another term in Westminster, but unless Mr Miliband pulls his finger out, it may well happen. There is however, a small part of me that would like for the Tories to have to rely on those DUP MPs in order to obtain an electoral majority. If only to see the DUP find themselves like deer in the headlights; the full glare of the British media suddenly upon them. Every cloud, and all that…

  10. Micheal June 20, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Is this working yet?

  11. Micheal June 20, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Is this working?