The number of people driven out of their homes by loyalist or sectarian intimidation in the north of Ireland is at a five-year high, according to figures published today.
Campaigners accuse the PSNI police of covering up the culpability of loyalist paramilitary groups that are supposed to be on ceasefire.
In 2012/13 there were 411 cases of individuals and families informing the North’s Housing Executive that they were homeless because they had been driven from their properties, an increase of over one third from previous years, according to the new figures.
Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by UVF paramilitaries in north Belfast in 1997, said the true figures for those made homeless through loyalist intimidation may be three times as high.
He said that in many cases the PSNI police was reluctant to sign the ‘Sped’ forms for rehousing, because they are required to apportion the blame to loyalist organisations such as the UVF or the UDA, that are officially on ceasefire.
McCord said this was a problem especially for those who owned their homes and who were not included in the Housing Executive statistics. He cited the case of a relative of Bobby Moffett, who was murdered by the UVF in 2010.
“I dealt with the case of this lad who was beaten very badly outside a bar earlier this year by members of the UVF on the Shankill Road,” he said.
“They picked on him because he won’t be silenced after what happened to Bobby Moffett. After his beating he was informed he had to leave the Shankill and sought to be rehoused elsewhere in Belfast.
“The PSNI refused to sign the Sped form that would have said the UVF was behind this assault. This is because the chief constable, Matt Baggott, has said recently that the UVF ceasefire has not been broken.
“Instead the police refer to ‘criminal elements’ being responsible for assaults like this. It does not look good politically either for the PSNI or the Northern Ireland Office if an official government Sped form states a certain paramilitary organisation was behind the attack or ones like it.”
McCord’s battle to expose links between the PSNI (then RUC) special branch and elements of the North Belfast UVF in the murder of his son and up to a dozen other deaths led to a damning report by the former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan which found collusion between loyalist informers and their PSNI/RUC handlers.
One of the worst cases since 2012 has been that of Jemma McGrath, a 24-year-old care worker who was shot in the stomach outside a house in east Belfast in September this year. She had earlier been forced out of east Belfast by a local UVF commander who has been behind a wave of criminality and sectarian violence connected with the flags dispute over the last 12 months.
McGrath is a former partner of the UVF east Belfast “brigadier”. After she fell out with him she was subjected to a campaign of malicious gossip, forcing her to flee to the north of the city. When she returned to the east on 25 September, UVF gunmen were waiting and shot her four times.
McCord said of the Housing Executive figures: “In Greater Belfast alone, judging the amount of cases, I would say it is double that figure. Across Northern Ireland there are other incidents of intimidation and exiling going on. So the figure is far, far higher than the Housing Executive’s numbers.”