Catholic families in a cross-community housing development in Belfast have been ordered to leave their homes in a sectarian threat from the unionist paramilitary UVF.
The residents live in Cantrell Close - a housing development that was part of an official ‘shared communities’ strategy. Some of the four families involved have now been forced to present themselves to the Housing Executive as homeless.
The PSNI police visited the families on Tuesday around midnight to relay a warning issued by the UVF stating they were not welcome in the area because of their religion. The threat also said that if the residents did not leave the area they would be attacked.
In June, Catholics in the area were terrified after UVF and other loyalist flags were erected. At the time, the DUP’s local MP, Emma Little Pengelly faced criticism for saying most people “didn’t want a public fuss” about the flags.
The developments, portrayed as a model for ‘new Belfast’, are located close to the loyalist Woodstock Road areas. They were funded as part of the Stormont executive’s ‘Together Building United Communities’ programme. The multi-million-pound strategy launched in 2013 was supposed to “reflect the commitment to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society”.
However, the UVF has now openly claimed the area as their turf, and with surprisingly little opposition from the authorities.
A Housing Executive spokesman said: “A number of families in the south Belfast area have presented to us as homeless claiming sectarian intimidation. We have no further information at this time.”
One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I live in Cantrell Close, East Belfast and my street is supposed to be part of a community project to bring religions together.
“I had been waiting for three years for a house and was sceptical about taking a housing association house in a Protestant area as I’m Catholic.
“But I was assured everything would be fine. We had Emma Pengelly call in the summer to reassure us about the area.
“However last night after midnight, police came to my door and all the other Catholic residents in Cantrell Close and said they’d received a threat saying that my family was no longer welcome in Cantrell Close due to my perceived religion.
“It also stated that if I didn’t move the residents and their homes would be under threat of violence. It’s disgusting. I have children and now I’m worried about their safety.”
Local Sinn Fein representative Mairtin O Muilleoir blamed the UVF for what he said was “blatant sectarianism”.
“They [the police] didn’t name the UVF, but it is the UVF and they have threatened these families lives,” he said.
He said there was not enough opposition to the erection of flags in the area before the summer from within unionism, the police and Housing Executive.
“Not enough people spoke out then, everyone went about blind and now we have this.”
One of those forced to flee spoke to journalists said he was angry and frustrated.
“It’s because we are Catholic, no doubt about it. Things were going great, we got on with the neighbours and we’ve never had a problem in the past - this has just come out of nowhere.
The man and his family have had to seek refuge in a friend’s house leaving behind their personal possessions. He said he was “petrified” for the safety of his family.
“We are just just stunned - shocked - everything was going so well. But we are not going to give them the satisfaction of keeping on intimidating us.
He condemned the politicians at Stormont. “Everyone of them is a joke, they shouldn’t be in the job. They have done nothing for us,” he said. “I thought all this was done with 15 years ago but it is still going on.”