Belfast housing plan linked to H-Block project
Belfast housing plan linked to H-Block project

A deeply controversial Protestant ‘settlement’ in nationalist north Belfast is a trade-off for the development of a conflict resolution centre at the site of Long Kesh prison, it has been claimed.

Revelations that the North’s Housing Executive plans to assign new housing on the site of the former Girdwood British Army base in north Belfast on the basis of religion rather than need created a furore last week.

There is an extreme shortage of housing for Catholics in the north Belfast area, with 95% of those on the housing waiting list from that community. But it emerged last week that Protestants have been actively recruited to live in the area as part of the agreement for the site.

There have been claims that Sinn Fein’s support for the plan is part of a behind-the-scenes deal with the DUP to allow the development of a ‘conflict resolution centre’ at the site of the former Long Kesh prison near Lisburn.


At issue in north Belfast is the development of two segregated residential zones, one designed for nationalists and another in an area targeted at unionists.

Demographic change in the north of the city, which still elects a unionist MP, is strongly feared by unionists as having the potential to finally tilt the balance of power in Belfast into nationalist hands.

So in a potentially illegal move to bolster the numbers of unionists in the area, flyers were sent to residents of the Shankill Road to ecourage them to move to the new unionist district.

eirigi spokesperson John McCusker lambasted all those involved.

“[DUP Social Development Minister] Nelson McCausland, at the launch of this plan, said that they, the political representatives of the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein, were ‘sending a powerful message to north Belfast’ and indeed they were. The message was that the Orange State, where houses were allocated on the basis of creed over need is not quite shattered yet.”

He particularly condemned those parties which “make claims on the legacy of the civil rights movement”.

The criteria for allocating homes based on need, along with ‘one man, one vote’, was the cornerstone of the civil rights campaign, the same campaign that fuelled the growth of the SDLP and led people to take to the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday.

McCusker asked: “The question that must be asked of those claiming to represent the equality agenda is, if you are unable to deliver a north Belfast of equals, what chance an Ireland of one?”

Following the public outcry, the nationalist SDLP has now reversed its initial support for the scheme, while Sinn Fein have remained largely silent on the matter.


A succession of senior SDLP members have now spoken out in opposition. They point to the Housing Executive’s own projections for north Belfast state that for the next five years homes should be built on a 90 per cent Catholic and 10 per cent Protestant basis, in order to cope with need.

The criteria for allocating homes based on need was one of the cornerstone of the civil rights campaign, the same campaign that led people to take to the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday and fuelled the growth of the SDLP.

Embarrassed SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party had been “misled” about the actual nature of the development, and suggested that Sinn Fein and the DUP had agreed a backroom deal.

“Some people were suggesting there was a trade-off here, that Sinn Fein traded off the needs of people in north Belfast, the serious housing need of 350 families, for their reconciliation centre at the Maze,” he said.

“The DUP and Peter Robinson moved from opposing a shrine to the IRA to promoting it as a Mecca for tourists.

“People on the ground in north Belfast are very angry.”

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson surprised many recently when he reversed his party’s opposition to the planned new conflict centre on the site of the former H-Blocks. He described it as a potential “mecca for tourists”.

If it goes ahed, the centre will be based in two H-Blocks of the old prison and will include the hospital wing where ten republican hunger strikers died in 1981.

Mr McDonnell said his party may complain to the Equality Commission about the deal.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has dismissed this allegation, stating the SDLP’s change of heart was “political cannibalism”.

Alliance leader David Ford, who last week pulled his small cross-community party out of a Stormont working group to tackle sectarianism over what he said was a failure to engage, said the four main parties “are all complicit in a sectarian carve up of housing”.

He said of the Girdwood plan: “This is apartheid. That is all it is.”

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