Socialist Worker

Behind Northern Ireland’s peace walls

Issue No. 2143

A wave of anger against segregated housing lay at the heart of the civil rights movement that erupted in Northern Ireland at the end of the 1960s.

Yet four decades later, housing remains segregated – and government promises of regeneration have proved to be hollow.

The figures are shocking. Some 60 percent of applicants for social housing in Northern Ireland are Catholic and 40 percent Protestant.

Yet 60 percent of allocations go to Protestants and only 40 percent to Catholics.

The 2000-7 Northern Ireland housing executive strategy, “Tackling Housing Need”, set aside £15 million to acquire land to meet the urgent need for housing. It has spent just £5.3 million.

Some 2,300 new homes were promised but less than a quarter have been built. What’s more, 28 percent of those were built in areas with a housing surplus and without an “identifiable need for new housing”.

The executive also has the power to put forward land for development. But it has admitted that “surplus lands in one community are not readily available for use by another”.

When it launched its housing strategy, the housing executive argued that since social housing is segregated, no new homes should be built near the city centre.

A British government report on segregation also concluded that “further housing development has the potential of increased polarisation” and therefore, in the name of reconciliation and community relations, none should be built on city centre sites.

Some 90 percent of social housing estates in Northern Ireland are segregated. The peace process has done nothing to change this.

The number of “peace lines” (a euphemism for segregation walls) and “interface areas” (neighbourhoods where sectarian tensions and violence are high) have grown since 1998. Some 40 “peace lines” now separate communities.

You are more likely to live on a segregated estate if you are poor.

The centre of Belfast, transformed since the ceasefire and now devoted to business, is neutral territory. But on ordinary working class estates, segregation is rife.

A survey in January found that 81 percent of people wanted the walls taken down. But there is also a level of fear among ordinary people – 60 percent wanted the walls taken down only when they felt it was safe to do so.

But there is one significant area where Catholic and Protestant communities are not segregated – at work – and it is here that people can come together to fight poverty and the sectarian state.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.