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Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Housing and Religion in Northern Ireland
by Martin Melaugh
Section 2: Housing Policy and Public Reaction 1945 To 1971
It is clear from the previous Section that the end of the war
in 1945 marked an important turning point in housing policy in
Northern Ireland. The most significant single initiative was
the setting up of the Northern Ireland Housing Trust (NIHT).
The importance of the Trust in the provision of public sector
housing during the period 1945 to 1971 makes an assessment of
its impact on each of the two communities imperative. This period
also saw the start of the Civil Rights movement one of the central
concerns of which was housing. This section will consider both
As was the case in Britain the war resulted in shifts in public opinion and the Northern Ireland government was forced to act to tackle a number of outstanding problems, particularly housing. The main initiative was the setting up of the Northern Ireland Housing Trust under the Housing Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. The Trust was financed by government and its main function was to provide 'housing accommodation for workers' in co-ordination with local authorities:
... the Trust was not designed to replace local authority activity or to confront inactive or recalcitrant local authorities.... The NIHT was to co-operate with and assist local authorities. However, implicitly, this involved making up for the shortcomings of local authorities, especially in areas where housing needs outran local resources. (Murie and Birrell 1972 p3).
The fact that the Stormont government felt it necessary to set up the Housing Trust was an admission that public housing policy, as administered by local authorities, was failing to meet housing need. At the time Stormont encouraged the local authorities to work in co-operation with the Housing Trust but the new body got a mixed reception: "in the post-war years, some local councils welcomed the assistance of the Housing Trust, others viewed it with hostility and preferred to go their own way." (Brett 1986 p31).
The ruling parties in some councils had a powerful incentive, due to their slim electoral advantage in key wards, to control the amount and location of new housing. On a number of occasions the Trust found its efforts to meet housing needs in particular areas were being frustrated by the opposition of local councils. Without mentioning the Trust by name the Cameron report criticised the obstructiveness of local councils: "...there have been many cases where councils have withheld planning permission, or caused needless delays, where they believed a housing project would be to their electoral disadvantage." (Cmd. 532 1969 p61). In their 1971 assessment of housing in Northern Ireland Birrell et al. commented on the problems experienced by the NIHT in its relations with some of the local authorities:
There have ... been some councils with which the Trust has had difficulty in co-operating. The most serious example is Londonderry County Borough which itself has a very poor housebuilding record and where the housing need was great. The Trust had great difficulty in procuring planning permission and sewerage facilities for sites in the area ... The Housing Trust had similar problems in Dungannon and Enniskillen areas, where again there was an acute housing shortage, where the local authority had a poor housing record, and yet were very reluctant to make use of the Trust in trying to meet the need. (Birrell et al. 1971 p119).
Towards the end of its operation even the Housing Trust itself had become impatient with the delaying tactics of housing authorities and was less reticent in making its criticisms known:
In the course of its twenty-six years of building in co-ordination with local authorities, the Trust has not been without its difficulties. In a few areas efforts to overcome serious housing problems have been frustrated and the Trust is convinced that this resulted in unfortunate consequences to the community as a whole. (NIHT 1971 p22).
In addition to the areas mentioned above Tyrone County Council was also cited as an area where the NIHT experienced such problems (Murie and Birrell 1972). All of these areas had large Catholic populations a high percentage of which would have been dependent on rented, particularly public rented, accommodation.
One aspect of the operation of the Trust which was to have a greater significance than was probably anticipated was the fact that the Trust was required to operate under quite strict financial rules. The subsidies it received from the Exchequer were equivalent to those given for local authority houses. Those who first served on the Board of the Trust were from a background (with close Quaker connections) the ethos of which "reflected the virtuous, austere, if sometimes puritanical, characteristics of the northern Protestant work-ethic." (Brett 1986 p28). The financial restraints meant that the Trust always had to charge rents which were likely to attract the better paid of the working class:
... at no time in its history was the Trust able to charge rents low enough to meet the needs of the worst-housed and the lowest-paid; and, at no time was it able to bring the standards of its new houses up to the standards adopted in Great Britain. (Brett 1986 p28).
The effect of the higher rents meant that the skilled working class and white-collar population were in a better position to afford Trust property and this is likely to have reduced the chance of those most in need from benefiting from the property. The poorest members of both communities would have been adversely affected by the impact of the financial constraints on the Trust.
The main achievement of the Housing Trust was the contribution it made to the size of the housing stock. During the period 1945 to 1971 the trust completed 48,500 dwellings; half its original target (see Figure 1.2 and the accompanying table). It also introduced a more professional approach to housing management and provided a precedent which undoubtedly helped the NIHE to gain acceptance as a central public housing authority. On the negative side, the Trust made extensive use of non-traditional industrialised building methods. This form of building was used for medium- and high-rise flats and also for 'orlit' housing. This type of system built housing was to cause serious problems (Graham 1985, 19869 1986a) and many of the dwellings were demolished or substantially repaired.
While paying tribute to the many achievements of the Trust a number of writers have been critical of some aspects of the working of the organisation. Murie and Birrell (1972) commented on the allegations that the Trust preferred better-off tenants and concluded that "...the evidence, while not being full, is consistent in indicating that the allegations were correct." (p14). They also looked briefly at the spatial variations in NIHT activity which was unevenly spread across the region. Provision by other agencies, including councils and private contractors, and explanations based in terms of need were not sufficient, the authors concluded, to account for the observed uneven distribution. It was also noted that "By 1956, the Trust had built in all but seventeen local authority areas in Northern Ireland. Of these seventeen, fifteen were Rural Districts." (pl6). The authors also noted the low level of building in the west of the region:
A total of just over 6,000 dwellings were provided in the three western counties of Tyrone, Fermanagh and Londonderry. This is low in comparison with population and various estimates of need. In 1969 there were nine local authority areas, all rural districts, in which the Trust had not built any dwellings. There is no evidence to suggest that local councils in these areas managed to provide more houses to make up for, or explain the Trust's inactivity. (Murie and Birrell 1972 p16).
They also drew attention to the criticisms of the Trust in relation to selection procedures. The Trust's own Annual Report for 1954-55 commented on the fact that some families who were the subject of slum clearance would have problems in paying the rents in the new property: "...families with a bad domestic standard, unsuitable for immediate transfer to a new estate, among tenants who take a pride in their houses and surroundings. Some of these difficult families have a low income..." (NIHT 1955 p14). An association is being drawn here between low income and "bad domestic standard" which is difficult to relate to the mission of a housing authority dedicated to meeting housing need. Given that Catholic households were more likely to be in precisely this position of low income, the Housing Trust is open to the criticism that the attitude which it expressed amounted to indirect discrimination against Catholic families. Although the NIHT operated a 'points system' for determining housing need, an element of discretion was used in determining whether applicants could join the system. A household would be visited by a Housing Manager, who reported on their existing accommodation, and they were also investigated by the Housing officer and the Area Housing Manager before being added to the list for rehousing.
Few researchers have attempted a comprehensive assessment of the impact of the NIHT on the housing circumstances of the two communities. The main reason is a lack of detailed information at the household level which would allow such an investigation to be made. Often the best judgment that can be made is based on information about the distribution of Catholics and Protestants in the region and the distribution of NIHT housing resources. Hillyard (1986) came to the following conclusion:
The performance of the NIHT in terms of equality of opportunity is also difficult to assess, because of the lack of any systematic evidence. But a number of its policies would tended to have adversely affected the Catholic community. (p9)
Hiliyard (1986) pointed out that much of the housing built by the Trust was erected on sites in the east of the region. The Trust therefore played an important role in providing housing for those who worked in the new industries which attracted mainly white-collar and skilled workers. Due to the financial constraints mentioned earlier the Trust charged higher rents than local authorities. Each of these factors, Hillyard maintains, would have had the effect of disadvantaging Catholic households.
In an assessment of the location of new building between 1944
and 1971 , Tomlinson (1980) compared what was achieved in terms
of completions with estimates of housing need. Tomlinson split
the period around the year 1959 which marked the start of slum
clearance in the region. He used government figures published
in 1944 and 1959 as the official estimates of housing required
in the province. As the data presented by Tomlinson provides
one of the few examples of an analysis based on areas within Northern
Ireland, his original tables are reproduced here as Tables 2.1
Original sources: Compiled from 'Housing Return for Northern Ireland'; 'Housing in Northern Ireland, Cmd. 224, 1944'
Original sources: Compiled from 'Housing Return for Northern Ireland'; 'Proposals for Dealing with Unfit Houses, Cmd. 398, 1959'
Both tables show a very uneven pattern of new build across the province: "The building programme as a whole was heavily weighted towards the environs of Belfast." (Tomlinson 1980 pl24). It would also appear that the pattern of building was not being determined by the government's own estimates of housing need. Of particular interest is the building record of the NIHT and again it is clear that there was a concentration of effort in the east of the province:
In both periods, the NIHT concentrated nearly three-quarters of its building effort in the area surrounding Belfast. Indeed, the major function of the NIHT was to house workers for the new industries locating on the periphery of Belfast, notably at Newtownabbey and Lisbum. Of the houses built by the NIHT in the environs of Belfast, 55% were situated in just three areas (for both periods) - Castlereagh, Lisburn and Newtownabbey. (Tomlinson 1980 p124).
It has to be remembered, of course, that the NIHT was involved in a programme of slum clearance which was undertaken to make up for the deficiencies of authorities such as Belfast City Council and Londonderry Corporation.
In his overview of the historical context of housing in Northern
Ireland Brett (1986) looked at the question of discrimination
by the NIHT. He noted that until the Civil Rights movement became
an important force there were no Catholics on the Board of the
Trust. This was despite the fact that those serving on the Board
had "repeatedly pressed successive Unionist ministers to
appoint a Catholic: to be greeted with the unvarying reply that
'the time was not right'." (Brett 1986 p27). Brett also
mentioned the views expressed by some people that the Trust managers
picked 'better' tenants for their property:
Because of the importance attached by the Trust, to thrift, good housekeeping, and punctual payment of rent - and because the rents for Trust accommodation were perforce always somewhat higher than those in the private or local authority sectors - some managers acquired a reputation for picking and choosing the best tenants, who were seldom those most in need. While this was understandable, it was unfortunately ultimately damaging the reputation of the of the Trust, implying as it did not only an unacceptable kind of paternalism, but also a kind of discrimination - not necessarily on religious grounds, but sometimes open to that interpretation. (p30).
The weight of the evidence would seem to suggest that, because
of a number of external factors, the NIHT did not always provide
housing for those in greatest need. In addition a number of policies
adopted by the Housing Trust resulted in the most needy in the
Catholic community being excluded from this particular source
of public sector housing. The actions of a number of local councils
particularly those in the south and west of the region made it
impossible for the Trust to provide housing in certain areas.
Again this was mainly to the detriment of the Catholic community.
With more support from the government at Stormont the NIHT could
have put pressure on the more obstructive councils to allow housing
need to be meet. The failure to deal effectively with housing
shortages in these very areas was to give impetus to the Civil
Rights movement in the mid-1960s.
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND ALLEGATIONS OF DISCRIMINATION
The issue of public sector housing was to play a key role in the Civil Rights movement which began in Northern Ireland in the mid-l960s. Allegations of discrimination in public sector housing were concerned mainly with provision by local councils but also included, on occasion, the practices of the NIHT. It is difficult to define the point in time when differences in public housing between the two communities became a political issue. Some commentators make the point that until the late 1950s there was little evidence of allegations of discrimination in public housing from the Catholic community simply because there was so little public housing. It was not until it began to form a considerable portion of the housing stock that the significance of allocation practices began to impinge on the welfare of potential clients, that is, working class Catholics and Protestants.
During the lifetime of the Civil Rights movement it evolved from being a small, mainly middle class, mainly Catholic pressure group to become an organisation which used the tactics of large street demonstrations, made up mainly of working class Catholics. After the initial stirrings of the Civil Rights movement a number of groups began to spring up around Northern Ireland. Among the issues that drove these various groups were those of electoral franchise and the related issue of gerrymandering, discrimination in employment, particularly public sector employment, and discrimination in public housing. All of these issues were inter-related. A lack of employment reduced the type of tenures open to a household, and the provision of housing could be dictated by concerns over the electoral balance in a particular area. Of these three issues it could be said that problems of housing were the most immediate for those in unfit accommodation or on the various waiting lists of councils around the province. It was certainly the case that the issue of housing was the initial reason for the formation of a number of groups active in the Civil Rights movement.
The Civil Rights movement had its beginning in a number of housing-related incidents in the early 1960s which began to highlight problems that had existed for a number of years. Dungannon was the initial focus for events that were to result in the formation of groups that later became the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). In his personal account of the Civil Rights movement Conn McCiuskey (1989) described the shortage of housing in Dungannon as the catalyst for action:
The most crushing handicap of working-class Catholics at that time was the housing shortage. The town's gerrymandered electoral system consisted of three wards, two of which were controlled by the Unionists (Protestants). There was no points system for housing allocation, tenancies being assigned in the Unionist ward by the Unionists, and in the one anti-Unionist ward by the Nationalist (Catholic) councillors. Since no new houses had been built in the Catholic ward, the only houses on offer there were re-lets.... The position was that, to control voting strength, no Catholic family had been allocated a [new] permanent house for thirty-four years. (McCluskey 1989 pl0).
In an effort to improve this situation a group of local women including Patricia McCluskey formed the Homeless Citizens League (HCL). They began by trying to bring pressure to bear on the urban council by gathering statistics, picketing the council's offices, and sending a deputation to speak to it. The council refused to allocate any of 142 houses just completed in a Unionist ward to Catholic families; these were latter allocated mainly to Protestant newly-weds. Subsequently a number of protest marches were organised, the first taking place in June 1963. The 'prefab' houses vacated by those allocated the new housing were to be dismantled, but in August 1963 a group of Catholic families squatted into the vacant accommodation. Although initially the council tried to force the squatters out, their plight received media attention and the Stormont government intervened to allow them to remain. The squatters were latter rehoused in new housing in the Nationalist ward. This outcome represented something of a success for the HCL and it led to requests for help and information from other areas of Northern Ireland.
As a result of the experience gained from the HCL a new organisation was established with the aim of highlighting the grievances of the Catholic minority by seeking publicity outside the province. This organisation called itself The Campaign for Social Justice in Northern Ireland (CSJ) and was launched at a press conference on 14 January 1964. In its press release it said:
Our first objective will be to collect comprehensive and accurate data on all injustices done against all creeds and political opinions, including details of discrimination in jobs and houses and to bring them to the attention of as many socially minded people as possible. (McCluskey 1989 p17).
Although it tried to enlist liberal Protestant support the organising committee was eventually made up entirely of Catholic middle class men and women. It produced a number of booklets setting out the evidence of discrimination, the most widely distributed of these was entitled Northern Ireland: The Plain Truth. In addition to looking at issues of discrimination in employment, the gerrymandering of voting patterns, and the denial of 'one man, one vote', this booklet also dealt with the allegations of discrimination in housing administration.
The issue of housing was closely linked to political concerns. In an attempt to control voting patterns two measures were used. Firstly, only householders and their spouses were entitled to a vote in local elections. This had the effect of disenfranchising a large section of the population (estimated at 25 per cent of the electorate by CSJ) who, because of housing shortages, were either living with relatives or sub-letting. This was claimed to have had a disproportionately large effect on the Catholic population. The second method was the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries in areas where there was a natural Catholic majority. The 'classic' example of this was in Derry. In a number of areas around Northern Ireland the balance of the distribution of votes could have been upset by the siting of new houses, or the re-letting of existing houses, to the wrong sort of people'. So the whole issue of house building and housing allocation was a political matter as well of socio-economic importance.
The CSJ, while praising the NIHT for encouraging integrated housing areas, did at the same time criticise it: "The Trust usually selects better-off people since they make more stable tenants, the most needy being thereby passed over." (CSJ 1972 2nd ed. pl3). It was also pointed out that the work of the Trust was often obstructed in those areas where new housing allocated to Catholics would be likely to upset the balance of political voting. The CSJ also made a direct allegation of discrimination against the NIHT without citing evidence:
The Trust is not blameless of occasionally practising religious discrimination. It has refused enquiring opposition M.Ps information as to how it selects tenants. More often than not it re-lets to people of the same religion as the old tenants, and not solely on need. (CSJ 1972 2nd ed. pl3).
The CSJ booklet also looked at the situation in some of the council areas in the west and south of the region and gave examples of alleged discrimination in housing. In Derry the housing situation before 1969 was bad:
In their attempt to contain the opposition the Unionist Corporation determined not to build extra houses within the City boundary. They have not built a single house since 1966, and only 136 since 1958. Over 1,000 houses in Derry are occupied by more than one family and in several cases seven or eight families are occupying what was originally a single dwelling. There are over 1,500 families on the waiting list, nearly all Catholics. Even the Housing Trust, which has built large numbers of flats and dwellings, has been seriously hampered in its house-building efforts by the continued refusal of the Corporation to extend the City boundary. Many times each year proposals to this end by opposition councillors have been rejected. (CSJ 1972 2nd ed. p20).
The housing situation in Dungannon was also described in some detail as this area was familiar to some of the organisers of the CSJ. The main allegations concerned the letting of new houses. From the figures supplied it would appear that new houses were ordinarily much more likely to be allocated to new Protestant families than to new Catholic families. Where Catholic families did fare better was in the allocation of new houses as a result of slum clearance. This presumably was due to greater number of Catholic families living in slum conditions and because the council had a statutory duty to rehouse those living in areas being redeveloped. From the evidence it would also appear that Catholic households did less well than Protestant households in terms of re-lets.
Bob Purdie in his book Politics in the Streets described the importance of Derry in the Civil Rights movement:
Derry was the crucible of the civil rights movement It was of enormous symbolic importance as the second city of Northern Ireland,... the town in which a Nationalist majority was denied control of local government by a particularly flagrant gerrymander of the electoral boundaries. It was in Derry on 5 October 1968 that Northern Ireland crossed its Rubicon,... The events of August 1969 in Derry brought Northern Ireland close to civil war and the killing of thirteen anti-internment demonstrators in the city on 30 January 1972 precipitated the imposition of direct rule and the end of the Stormont parliament (Purdie 1990 p l59).
A very important aspect of the grievances of the Catholic population of Derry and one of the chief motivations behind much of the Civil Rights agitation was the issue of housing: "The contours of working-class Catholic life in Derry were marked out by unemployment, bad housing, emigration and close family and community life." (Purdie 1990 pl61). During the 1960s there were in Derry a number of 'single issue' campaigns run by action committees, an early example being the Derry Unemployed Action Committee. However, it was one committee set up to agitate on the issue of housing which was to have the greatest impact:
The next action committee to be formed was the DHAC [Derry Housing Action Committee]. It was the most important of these groupings as it was directly responsible for bringing NICRA to Derry for the 5 October 1968 march and thus was the catalyst which turned the civil rights movement into a mass campaign. It developed the direct-action methods of earlier campaigns into new and more dramatic forms and it took up an issue which was the central and most widely felt grievance of Derry Catholics - housing. (Purdie 1990 p173).
The Civil Rights campaign of collecting and publicising information on discrimination was successful in drawing attention to a number of problems in Northern Ireland. In an attempt to put the Unionist side of the story similar tactics were "attempted by a number of groups. During the period of the Civil Rights movement Unionists had at their disposal the information services of government and access to the media. The response to the Civil Rights campaign took many forms but in reply to publications from the Campaign for Social Justice a number of Unionist organisations began to publish their own information on Northern Ireland.
In a pamphlet entitled Northern Ireland: Facts at your fingertips published by the Northern Ireland Information Service (1975) at Stormont Castle, a short section was devoted to housing. In this section mention was made of the total number of houses built in the region since the War. This figure of course includes all tenures and not simply public sector housing. Nevertheless the figures look impressive including as they do the high level of completions between 1965 and 1975. On the question of the then recently published Housing Condition Survey (NIHE 1974) the facts, including that unfitness was 20 per cent in Northern Ireland compared to 7.3 per cent in England and Wales, were presented without comment.
In an earlier document, this time published by the Ulster Unionist Council (1969) and entitled Ulster - The Facts, there was a section with the title "AHEAD in housing". The basis for this claim was the fact that:
From the end of World War II until the close of 1968 altogether 16l,518 new permanent houses were built in Northern Ireland. Thus two families out of every five live in post-war dwellings in Northern Ireland while in Britain the HANDBOOK says, 'one family in three now lives in a post-war dwelling.' Therefore in housing total (sic) Northern Ireland is actually a shade ahead of Britain. (Ulster Unionist Council 1969)
The figures for new houses include private developments and also include the five years from 1964, which alone account for almost one-third of the new housing. What was not said, of course, was that many of the dwellings completed since the war were, particularly in the rural areas, built to a low standard with few amenities, and very often lacking services. One sentence, "Local authorities in Ulster have been battling against a backlog of poor housing...", points to the housing problems without acknowledging that many of those problems were attributable to the inaction of Unionist controlled councils and disinterest on the part of the Stormont government.
The debate on the extent of discrimination in Northern Ireland during the Stormont years has continued since the Civil Rights campaign began. During the 1980s a series of articles appeared in the British Journal of Sociology in which Hewitt (1 981, 1983, 1985 and 1987) and O'Hearn (1983 and 1985) argued about both the extent of discrimination against Catholics in particular and also the chief causes of violence in Northern Ireland. There have also been more recent attempts to re-examine the evidence from a 'Unionist' viewpoint (see, for example, Kingsley 1989). What is perhaps lacking in most of the argument is an attempt to address the question of the perceptions of the Catholic community during the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Given the level of alienation, evidence of discrimination would have had the effect of reinforcing attitudes. This effect would have been much greater than any reduction in negative attitudes which potentially could have come about by evidence of benefits, in terms of housing or employment, accruing to Catholics.
Following the reforms introduced first by the Stormont government and then by Westminster the issue of housing began to be overtaken by other political concerns. Little assessment was therefore made at the time of evidence which became available at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. It is therefore worth considering the limited evidence that is available at a regional level. In particular the study by Rose (1971), the data from the 1971 Census and the review by Whyte (1983) all provide some evidence of the housing characteristics of Catholic and Protestant households. As the Census data forms a large component, and as it is one of the few sources of information from this period to provide household information broken down by religion, it is considered separately in Section Three.
One piece of research from the period of the height of the Civil Rights movement which is often quoted as demonstrating that there was no systematic discrimination against the Catholic community is that of Rose (1971). This research was based on 'The Loyalty Questionnaire', a multi-stage stratified random sample of 1,500 households. Interviews were conducted with 757 Protestants and 534 Catholics; the total number of 1,291 is sufficient, under the right circumstances, to produce a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population. One of the questions asked concerned the respondent's housing tenure and this variable, in combination with others collected, was used as a basis for considering a particular aspect of public sector discrimination.
Rose began his discussion on public sector housing by making the statement:
If discrimination against Catholics in housing were systematically practised in all parts of Northern Ireland, then the proportion of Catholics in receipt of subsidized housing would be virtually nil. (Rose 1971 p293).
It would have to be said that those who made the allegations regarding public sector housing never claimed that Catholics received none of the housing being allocated. The allegations tended to be concentrated in particular areas, notably the west of the region, and concerned in the main particular types of Catholic households. It was claimed that whereas Catholic households were allocated public sector dwellings if they were being moved from slum clearance areas (an obligation the council would have found difficult to ignore) it was much more difficult for new Catholic households to obtain public sector housing.
Rose found that "in aggregate Catholics are more likely than Protestants to be living in council houses." (p293), but this was hardly surprising given that Catholics were relatively worse off in economic terms and therefore more likely to be in need of public sector housing. When he examined the figures broken down by type of local authority he found that in Belfast (Unionist controlled) 9 per cent of Protestants and 19 per cent of Catholics lived in local authority housing, the figures for other Unionist controlled authorities were 25 and 26 per cent respectively, and for Nationalist controlled authorities the figures were 15 and 39 per cent respectively. From these figures he concluded that "The greatest bias appears to favour Catholics in that small part of the population living in local authorities controlled by Catholic councillors." (p293).
This last statement would appear to ignore the evidence on need. The figures quoted for the Unionist controlled authorities outside Belfast would appear to suggest that Catholics and Protestants had an almost equal level of need for local authority and Northern Ireland Housing Trust houses. If this was not the case, and the evidence suggests that Catholic housing needs were greater, then there must be another reason for the percentage equality in Rose's figures. (it is interesting to note the high percentage of Trust houses in the Unionist controlled areas, this at a time when the Trust was attempting to make up for shortcomings on the part of certain Unionist local authorities.) Part of the explanation might well be that Catholics in need were finding it difficult to obtain housing in the public rented sector. Rose also examined the figures for Catholics and Protestants living in public and private housing broken down by income levels. "in fact, in all but one income category, the proportion of Catholics in subsidized housing is slightly higher than that of Protestants. The difference, while consistent, averages only four per cent." (Rose 1971 p294).
Fieldwork for the survey was carried out in 1968 and the book
published in 1971, that is, before the data from the 1971 Census
was available. A comparison of the Census data on tenure shows
some discrepancy with the estimates from those of Rose (1971).
Table 2.3 shows the figures for Rose and the corresponding Census
Whereas Rose's estimates of Protestant tenure are reasonably accurate, it is clear from the table that there are considerable differences in the case of Catholic tenure levels. These differences cannot be wholly explained by the slightly differing time periods, or indeed by differences in the number of households which were 'not classified'. The impact of these differences is difficult to judge. It is certainly the case that there were many more Catholic private renting households in Rose's study than in the general population. Presumably these would have been a mixture of reasonably well-off households who were living in good private rented accommodation from choice, and those who were living in dwellings in very poor conditions who were there because of lack of alternative accommodation. The differences in the Catholic tenure figures would suggest that some of Rose's conclusions on this topic need to be treated with a degree of caution. Birrell et al. (1971) also added a note of caution on the conclusion by Rose that his data showed no evidence of systematic discrimination against Catholics:
... the figures only record percentages of Catholics in receipt of public housing, analysed on a basis of Unionist and Nationalist local authority areas and on a county and county borough basis. This does not indicate the allocations of individual housing authorities and the figures ignore the total number of houses built by local authorities and any calculations of the need for new housing in these areas. (Birrell et al. 1971 p149).
A more recent assessment of the extent of discrimination in public sector housing was made by John Whyte (1983). This was part of a review of the material related to the Unionist government of the province from 1921 to 1968. While Whyte's review did disclose cases of discrimination, "the important question is not whether discrimination occurred but how much." (Whyte 1983 p20). He makes the point that most of the allegations were made against councils located west of the Bann and that many of these were tied to the question of the gerrymandering of boundaries. Whyte's conclusion was that "Overall, discrimination seems to have been less widespread in housing than in, say, public employment." (Whyte 1983 p21). There are a couple of points to make about Whyte's assessment. The first has to do with the fact that he limited himself to the question of overt discrimination; this was due to considerations of space. The effect of this was that Whyte ignored questions to do with structural inequality, an area of investigation which received more attention in the 1980s, and also what some have termed institutionalised discrimination, a problem which is only recently receiving attention. A second point has to do with the fact that Whyte placed a certain weight on the evidence presented by Rose (1971) which, as demonstrated above, needs to be treated with caution in that the sample was not representative of the tenure of Catholic households.
It is worth repeating however that much of the evidence considered by the Cameron Commission on discrimination in public sector housing referred to six areas in the south and west of the region. While the information on the areas in question provided clear evidence of incidences of discrimination there was insufficient information on which to come to a conclusion on the whole of Northern Ireland. The 1971 Census data on tenure (see table 2.3) demonstrates that in all probability the discrimination documented in a number of council areas had only a marginal impact on the overall figure for the proportion of Catholic households in public sector housing. The data on tenure in the 1981 Census (see Section Five) shows that the proportion of Catholic households in the public rented sector had risen from 40.9 per cent in 1971 to 47.7 per cent in 1981 (the equivalent figures for Protestants were 32.2 per cent in 1971 to 36.8 per cent in 1981). This gives some indirect evidence of the size of the reservoir of unmet need for public sector housing, particularly among the Catholic population in 1971.
While the balance of the evidence in this Section would support the conclusion that overt discrimination against Catholics was not systematically applied across the region, those incidents which did take place had a profound effect on both the individuals involved and on the perceptions of the wider Catholic community. The housing record during the period between 1945 to 1971 was one of missed opportunities, mismanagement, and deliberately unfair allocation policies by a number of local authorities, geared to secure voting patterns rather than meet housing need. It should be remembered that all of the information presented above concerned only the public sector. The issue of discrimination in the owner-occupied or private rented sector is more problematic. In other parts of the UK ethnic groups have been the subject of discrimination in both of these housing sectors (Harrison and Higgins 1989). In Northern Ireland with its pattern of segregated housing many people implicitly limit their range of potential housing areas by selecting to live in places where their community forms a majority. Incidences of a 'colour bar' (green for Catholics or orange for Protestants) on private property are sometimes the subject of local gossip or speculation. However, there is an absence of systematic research in this area and no conclusions can be drawn.
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