The PSNI police have been provided with the keys to every property in the tower blocks of republican north Belfast, it has emerged.
The decision by the Housing Executive to hand over the master keys to flats in the seven high-rise towers in the nationalist New Lodge area has generated alarm and disbelief.
The towers are home to hundreds of people including former republican prisoners and republican supporters.
People living in the towers highlighted concerns when they became aware that the PSNI had entered some properties. The PSNI admitted they were used “on a minimal number of occasions”, but refused to say why.
However, details of the arrangement emerged only this week when community representatives met a north Belfast Housing Executive official.
Community representatives say the official told them the keys were handed over to the PSNI in early June at their base at Tennent Street.
Gerard Brophy, who lives in the Meabh House tower block and is a member of the residents’ association, said residents were not consulted. He said it was worrying to think that someone else had a key to enter his property.
“The question has to be asked, how many master keys are there and who has them?” he said. “There is obviously a privacy and human rights issue here as well.”
He said people would want their locks changed.
“Speaking as a resident I want my lock changed,” he said. “And a fair number of residents will be going for the same thing.”
“The only people who should have access to my flat are people I give my keys to, not strangers, particularly the PSNI who are a security organisation,” he said.
Republican Network for Unity said the move was “nothing short of scandalous” and set “an extremely dangerous precedent”.
“It is very likely that this has been a case of flying the metaphorical kite, to judge which way the wind blows. Due to the commendable actions of the affected residents, it did not blow in the favour of the security forces in this instance,” said RNU Ard Chomhairle member and Belfast activist Nathan Stuart.
“The PSNI’s limited response to questioning in regards to this incident has been utterly unacceptable and an insult to the residents that demand and deserve answers.”