Six County government officials have been accused of masking the true levels of Catholic inequality in north Belfast, according to a new report.
The ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ report, compiled by the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) group, states that housing inequality has continued in north Belfast over the last decade despite official claims to the contrary.
The report claims that the statutory agencies are now using inaccurate data statistics to monitor homelessness in north Belfast which downplay the true scale of Catholic homelessness.
Traditionally Catholics have accounted for the majority of homelessness in north Belfast, while housing requests from the Protestant community have tended to relate to the need for improved housing conditions.
The report states that NIHE’s decision to only use ‘self reported’ statistics on community background since 2010 has led to a distortion of the true figures for those on the housing waiting list.
When PPR examined post codes and other data to calculate the current religious composition of the housing waiting list in north Belfast, Catholics accounted for more than three in four of those in difficulty, while the official figures put it at just over half.
Calling for Stormont to take urgent action to address the issue, PPR spokeswoman Kate Ward said: “The festering sore of religious inequality in housing must become a priority for the Minister for Social Development, and more widely the Northern Ireland Executive.”
The report comes as a controversy continues over the failure to allocate housing to a homeless man in a Belfast housing development at the centre of a High Court ruling.
In an unusual statement, High Court judge Justice Horner was highly critical of the practices of St Matthew’s Housing Association in east Belfast after it was found to have bypassed a waiting list and allocated houses to board members and relatives.
A homeless man at the top of the housing waiting list with 330 points was overlooked for a house at the site of the former Mountpottinger police station, in favour of a woman with just 26 points.
Justice Horner also ruled that board members, including former Sinn Fein deputy mayor Joe O’Donnell, failed to declare a conflict of interest when the houses were being allocated and warned against “nepotism”.
In a move that breached Housing Executive rules, houses were allocated to two nieces of Mr O’Donnell.
Sinn Fein MP Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said public housing should “always be allocated on the basis of need”.
“There can be no deviation at all from that when it comes to allocation of public housing,” she insisted.
Her family has a long association with civil rights and were vociferous campaigners for equality of housing allocation in the late 1960s.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said the party would support an inquiry into the episode when the legal process was concluded.