Catholic areas are excluded from a new 33 million pound plan to combat poverty in Belfast, it has been revealed.
Social development minister David Hanson unveiled the cross-departmental action plan, Renewing Communities, yesterday, vowing to “improve the life chances for all people living in our most disadvantaged communities” -- but only for Protestant communities.
The minister unveiled more than 60 measures aimed at tackling disadvantage in what the British government is calling “Protestant unionist loyalist” communities. Areas designated “Catholic nationalist republican” are to received nothing under the plan.
The massive injection of cash for unionist areas was one of the demands set by Ian Paisley’s DUP in talks last year. The announcement also follows sustained rioting in loyalist areas of Belfast last September.
The measures are aimed primarily at Belfast’s Shankill, Shore Road, Oldpark and lower Newtownards Road areas. The scheme aims to counter low levels of educational attainment in some Protestant communities and boost legitimate income among elements inclined towards criminal activity.
However, an official index of the most deprived areas in the Six Counties is dominated by nationalist communities.
Areas around the Whiterock, Falls and Crumlin Roads in west and north Belfast rank among the top five ‘most deprived’ districts.
A report by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) also suggested that of the 50 most deprived small areas in the north, the number of predominantly Catholic areas was twice that of Protestant areas.
The report took into account 43 indicators of deprivation, such as receipt of social welfare benefits, crime rates and housing quality.
Sinn Féin North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly said that it was “a serious mistake to sectarianise poverty”.
“The only way to tackle poverty, wherever it exists, is on the basis of objective need, and need alone,” he said, indicating that the plan contravened existing equality legislation.
“It raises serious questions about commitment of the British government to the equality agenda and concerns about how future funds will be allocated.
“Poverty, educational under achievement and unemployment are huge issues across all sections of our society. The only approach should be to tackle need where it exists. Instead of taking decisions along sectarian lines the objective should be to tackle educational under achievement everywhere that it exists by putting money where it is most needed. The same approach should be taken with unemployment, poor skills, housing and health.
“Everyone accepts that there are serious levels of poverty in disadvantaged working class loyalist areas and particular problems around educational under achievement. By the same measure it should be accepted that all of the recent objective evidence shows that poverty and disadvantage is more widespread in nationalist areas.
“Seven of the ten most deprived areas in the north are in nationalist areas. Nationalists are still more likely to be unemployed and a greater percentage leave school with no qualifications.”