CAIN: Key Issues - Housing. Majority Minority Review 3: Housing and Religion in Northern Ireland, by Martin Melaugh


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Majority Minority Review 3: Housing and Religion in Northern Ireland, by Martin Melaugh



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Majority Minority Review 3
Housing and Religion in Northern Ireland

Section 1: Background


INTRODUCTION

The housing circumstances of households are determined by many factors. Within the private sector choice of housing will be based upon such matters as what the household can afford, what is available in the preferred area and other personal preferences. The situation for those households dependent on public sector housing is slightly different but will again depend on such factors as housing need, as determined in Northern Ireland by a Housing Selection Scheme (based on a points system), the amount of public housing available in the area, and whatever account may be taken of personal preferences as to housing locality and type.

However, the range of housing circumstances, including tenure, from those who are homeless through to those living in large mansions, is largely determined by wealth and income. Consequently, while this review concentrates on material related to differentials in housing between Catholics and Protestants[1], it will become apparent that issues of employment and education, which were covered in the first two reviews (Gallagher 1989, 1991), have an important effect on housing circumstances. Northern Ireland has additional problems unique to the region. One which has a large impact on housing, is the issue of residential segregation. For many people the decision of where to live will depend on whether the area or estate being considered is viewed as Catholic, Protestant or mixed [2] . This poses an additional constraint on the choice of housing for many households in the province.

The information to be presented in this review shows differences in the housing circumstances of the two main communities in Northern Ireland. This situation reflects wider economic and social differences between Catholics and Protestants. There is evidence that discrimination, mainly against Catholics, in public and private employment and in public sector housing has contributed to some extent to these differentials. If there were no economic or social differences between Catholics and Protestants, the social class structure of the two communities might be expected to be identical. Under these circumstances the housing characteristics of the two communities would probably be very much similar than they are now. Underlying the following discussion of the housing circumstances of the two communities is the presumption that there should, other things being equal, be an equality of housing opportunity, particularly within the public sector. People contribute to public funds through direct taxation according to their income, and through the rates (in Northern Ireland) according to a valuation of the property that they own or occupy. Society has come to accept that the state should be involved, in some measure, in the provision of public housing on the basis of need. Besides public sector provision, many aspects of government policy have a direct effect on the operation of the private housing market; as can the decisions of private financial institutions. Planning policy by, for example, the Department of the Environment can also have a significant impact on all housing sectors.

It is almost universally accepted that the provision of public housing in Northern Ireland must be made on the basis of equality of treatment of the two communities. Some may argue that in other tenure groups, mainly the owner-occupied sector, the provision of housing and the allocation between Catholics and Protestants is a matter for the market. If discrepancies do exist they are the result of 'natural' occurrences determined by factors that are not the concern of those interested in the issue of housing equality. Within the remit of this document it would therefore only be possible to describe the differences. However, it is possible that private landlords, estate agents, private developers or private individuals could chose not to sell or rent their property to someone because of their religion, and there is nothing in Northern Ireland Law to prevent that. It is certainly the case that racial discrimination has been documented in all sectors of the housing market in Britain, even though it is illegal there.

The pattern of housing provision in the private sector is therefore determined by factors, the most important being income and wealth, which, in Northern Ireland, may themselves have been influenced by issues of discrimination. If employment opportunities among the economically active members of one community are greater than that of another, or if the earning levels of those who are employed are different, then the income and wealth levels are likely to be different and this will have a substantial impact upon access to private sector housing. Anyone interested in differences in the housing circumstances of the two communities must acknowledge that socioeconomic factors such as employment and unemployment differences, and cultural factors, have an important impact upon potential access to different housing types.

The decline of the 'housing issue'

When people in Northern Ireland are asked about the most important issues facing the region, housing tends to come low on the list. For example in the Social Attitudes Survey of 1991-92 7 per cent choose housing as a priority spending area (Stringer and Robinson 1992), while in the 1990-91 Continuous Household Survey only 3 per cent of respondents said bad housing was 'the most important problem facing Northern Ireland' (Policy Planning and Research Unit 1992). This represents a substantial change from the 1960s when housing, in particular the supply and allocation of public sector housing, was one of the main issues that was to spark the Civil Rights Movement.

While housing is no longer the controversial that it once was there remain many housing problems, particularly in comparison to Britain, which continue to have different implications for the two communities in Northern Ireland. Among these problems the most important are unfit housing in rural areas, the level of disrepair and 'problem estates'. This review will consider the main historical differences between the two communities before looking at evidence of the current situation in the region.

As a result of the comparatively slow replacement of housing, the size, nature and condition of the housing stock at any one moment is determined by events that have occurred over a considerable period. So there is a need briefly to describe the background to the present situation, by first looking at the latter part of the last century and the early part of this century, that is the period up to 1919. The period between the two World Wars was also an important one for housing in Northern Ireland as it represented a period of missed opportunities, therefore details of housing policy for the period 1919 to 1945 are also considered. Immediately after the Second World War there were a number of changes to the government's response to housing and these formed the basis for housing policy for the years 1945 to 1970. The setting up of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive was a watershed in the administration of public sector housing, so the period 1971 to the present is considered separately.

The availability of information on religion and housing

The content of this review is obviously dependent on the material that is available on the subject of housing and religion. This information is itself determined by the data that is available for analysis. Although religion was a key issue in housing during the 1960s and the early 1970s the amount of data available which includes religion as a variable is limited. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s the Northern Ireland Housing Executive did not have a comprehensive system for monitoring religion. As is discussed later the Executive adopted the position of not enquiring too closely about the religion of their tenants, or indeed the religion of respondents during its many ad hoc surveys. While it is true that the Executive did have a religion question on its housing application form, few people provided this information. This meant that the Housing Executive was open to the criticism that it was unable to say precisely what effect its various policies were having on the two communities. Those researchers who have tried to assess the impact of housing policy on the two communities have had to adopt indirect approaches. Some assessments have been based on procedures that assign religion to housing areas based on local knowledge. Others have depended on associations between the proportion of, say, Catholics living in particular areas and information on housing characteristics. While these approaches are open to criticism they are often the only methods available to those interested in this topic. While for the most part this report is based on a review of existing material it also presents available data, such as that in the various Censuses, in different formats.

THE PERIOD UP TO 1919

At the time of the Plantation of Ulster under James I, those who took advantage of the offer of land in what is now Northern Ireland lived, mainly for reasons of the perceived threat from the native Irish, in segregated settlements. The pattern of settlement that was laid out during the 17th century is still evident to this day in many areas of Northern Ireland. Segregation in housing is a fact of life for many in Northern Ireland, with many streets, estates, villages and towns, accommodating, almost exclusively, one religious group[3]. In addition to living in different areas, the new settlers in Ulster had a different housing tradition. When some plantation towns were being laid out and built, prefabricated timber dwellings were brought from Britain and erected on site. This type of accommodation would have been very different from typical Irish dwellings of the period.

One of the major influences in the pattern of housing in the region was the impact of the industrial revolution and the growth of towns. The rapid growth of Belfast placed huge demands on accommodation in the developing city and the initial response would have been temporary accommodation. Many households were obliged to share dwellings which were originally intended for one family. Evidence discussed below (Section Four) suggests that Belfast was a segregated city from its initial development. Other cities and towns in the north also had segregated areas and migration from the countryside, mainly of Catholics, tended to reinforce this pattern.

Evidence from the 1885 Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes was considered by Brett (1986). The Commission found urban housing in Londonderry and Belfast to be comparable with the best anywhere in Britain or elsewhere in Ireland. There had been a number of new housing developments and a lot of the older tenement houses had been replaced. Slum areas were, however, still to be found. It is also the case that by today's standards much of the housing, even the most recently constructed dwellings, would have been judged unfit for human habitation.

As an explanation for the relatively favourable situation in Belfast Brett points to the importance of a number of Belfast Local Acts, the most important being those in 1847, 1864 and 1878, which inter alia laid down minimum standards for the building of new housing. Other factors were also important, such as sufficient building land, landowners and capitalists willing to invest in housing, and a ready supply of building materials and labour. At the end of the 19th century there was also concern over the public health implications of the sanitary arrangements for housing in the city.

In Belfast some of the less scrupulous of those engaged in the building of houses were acquiring swamp land ("slobland"), using their positions or influence in the Corporation to have the land filled, and then building on the new site. However, Brett concludes that overall these capitalists "performed an essential service: if they and their like had not chosen to invest in building, the houses would not have been built at all." (p20). Brett also provides details of the vast fortunes that were made during this property boom.

By the turn of the century Belfast had a surplus of houses[4] and there was also political uncertainty about the future, neither factor likely to encourage the "city fathers" to undertake new building schemes. Although by 1910 other cities in the United Kingdom were engaging in schemes to clear the worst of the slums, the Corporation was slower to react, and this period marked the beginning of "apathy and stagnation in housing matters within the city, which was to last for half a century, and to lead to many of the Troubles of the recent past." (Brett 1986 p21).

The position in the countryside was a mixed one. There were a number of Labourers (Ireland) Acts; the first, in 1883, placed an obligation on the public authorities to play a part in the provision of labourers' cottages. Most of the cottages built during the period 1883 to 1906 were sited in the south of Ireland and of those built in the north most were erected in Antrim and Down. The absence of housing developments in the west of Ulster was a pattern that was to be repeated in later years. Each of these factors had a particular outcome in relation to differentials between the two main communities in the north.

THE INTERWAR YEARS 1919 TO 1939

With the passing of the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, the island of Ireland was partitioned and the Northern Ireland state came into being. While the regional government of Northern Ireland was based at Stormont, local government, which included city corporations, boroughs, county councils, urban district councils and rural district councils, became responsible for housing in local areas. As a result of this there were, in effect, a total of 61 housing authorities in Northern Ireland. Birrell et al. (1971) listed some of the defects of the system as it then operated:

There are far too many small councils. Twenty-seven local authority areas have a population of under 10,000, only five, including Londonderry have a population of over 40,000. The consequences of this for housing provision and for other services are fairly clear in terms of insufficient population size, low rate receipts, inability to employ professional staffs, limited planning and development schemes few economies of scale, and resultant inequality in standards between councils. (p.l0).

The legislation in Britain which allowed for the building of 'Homes for Heroes' of the First World War did not extend to Northern Ireland and the building record of Belfast and the rest of the province was very poor (Murie 1971). In Britain the period 1919 to 1939 was one of increased house building activity, but in Northern Ireland the position was markedly different:

In Northern Ireland ... there was no housing boom in the period 1919-39. Only 5 1, 000 dwellings were constructed. In spite of a policy which entitled them to Exchequer subsidies at the same rate as urban authorities, private builders provided 69 times fewer houses [i.e. per 1,000 population] than private builders in England and Wales. At the same time local authorities built 127 times fewer houses. Lawrence has quite rightly described this record as 'one of failure[5]'. The performance of local authorities and of the Ministry of Home Affairs 'fell far short of public need'. (Birrell et al. 1971 p53).

Figure 1.1 clearly demonstrates the very low rate of building during the interwar years[6]. In addition the quality of those dwellings which were built was lower than in the rest of the UK (Donnison 1967). Not only did houses tend to be built smaller, but if they were in rural areas they also tended to be without the services of mains water supply, sanitation, electricity or gas. This particular rural problem has important ramifications to the present day. Moreover there was very little slum clearance during this same period: "While 250,000 slum houses were cleared in Great Britain by 1939, properties of this standard still formed part of the housing stock of Northern Ireland." (Birrell et al. p78). Brett (1986) summed up the housing record in Belfast during this period:

There was no city in England, Wales or Scotland whose house-building record in the inter-war years, whether in the public or private sector or taking the two together, was worse than that of Belfast.... the failure to keep on foot a consistent rolling programme of renewal was to have disastrous consequences. (p22).

Figure 1.1 Subsidised new house building, by sector, 1919-1945

Data for Figure 1.1

Estimates of the number of labourers' cottages built in rural areas of Northern Ireland between 1919 and 1939 put the figure at approximately 4,300; however:

their distribution was uneven; not a single one was built in Co. Fermanagh, where the need might have been thought to be the greatest. The absence of wells or alternative water supplies was the worst drawback of most rural houses,. many of them were (a few still are) appalling rural slums,... (Brett 1986 p23).

The poorest Catholic and Protestant households living in these rural areas would have been at a considerable disadvantage in comparison to those areas which benefited from the building of cottages. Given that large numbers of Catholics lived in the rural areas of the west and south of Northern Ireland they would have been disproportionately affected by the cow level of new building in these areas. Catholic households would also have been more likely to be living in 'housing which lacked amenities of hot water, a fixed bath, or an inside toilet, and also had a low level of services, namely mains water, mains electricity, or connection to the public sewer.

THE PERIOD 1940 TO 1970

The Second World War was to have an important impact on housing policy in Northern Ireland. The bombing of Belfast in April and May of 1941 destroyed and damaged many dwellings. "The German bombing raids on Belfast ... in which 3,200 houses were destroyed and 53,000 damaged, constituted a turn of the tide for housing in Northern Ireland." (Brett 1986 p25). One reason for the extent of the damage and the number of people killed and injured was the lack of preparation: "The air raids exposed the ineptitude of both the Government and the Corporation." (Bardon 1982 p242). The outcome was a shift in public opinion and a realisation in government that changes in policy would be required.

The first systematic assessment of housing conditions in Northern Ireland was carried out in 1943-44 (Cmd. 224 1944). This assessment was set up as part of the process of planning post-war reconstruction in Northern Ireland. The report concluded that 100,000 houses were required for the region as a whole and of these 57,000 were estimated as being needed in rural areas.

A survey of rural life in five areas of Northern Ireland was carried out in 1944 (Mogey 1947). The areas chosen were meant to be representative of rural communities in Northern Ireland. The information collected from the sample of 1,018 dwellings showed rural housing conditions to be very poor; just 8 per cent of the houses had mains water supply and only 6 per cent had mains sewerage or satisfactory private water-borne disposal. The impact of the poor conditions was greater than in other areas of the UK "because it affects the welfare of 40 per cent of the population of Ulster." (Mogey 1947 p208). Some areas, particularly in the west, were found to be very much worse than average. It was estimated, for example, that "96 per cent of all houses in Co. Fermanagh have no running water." (Mogey 1947 p36). While both communities in these areas would have been at a severe disadvantage compared to urban areas it is probable, given the impact of other socioeconomic factors, that Catholic households would have been in a relatively worse position.

The period 1945 to 1970 saw a number of major changes to housing policy. The war had heightened expectations of improvement which, together with evidence of the very bad housing situation that existed immediately after the war, put pressure on government to respond. The main initiative was the Housing Act of 1945 which provided for the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Trust as a public authority funded by government. The Act also allowed for increased subsidies to local authorities as encouragement to build more houses. However, even the increased rate of new building which resulted from these measures (see Figure 1.2) was not enough to compensate for the increasing population and the necessary slum clearance:

Census data suggests that policies since the war have not begun to clear the back-log of neglect. Indeed it is possible that these policies have not kept pace with demands derived from changes in population structure and size, tastes and standards of housing. The rate at which the ageing stock of housing in Northern Ireland is becoming obsolete may well be faster than the growth of new housing. (Birrell et al. 1971 p95).


Figure 1.2 New house building, by sector, 1946-1970

Data for Figure 1.2

The building record of the councils during the period between the end of the war and the establishment of the NIHE was summarised by Brett:

Overall, the house-building record of the councils ... was disappointing. Between 1944 and 1972 they completed a total of almost exactly 75,000 new dwellings; but this fell far short of making good the deficiency accumulated over the previous half-century. (Brett 1986 p31).

The housing policy and the building record of the various agencies with responsibility for housing during the period 1919 to 1970 resulted in a housing situation that had adverse effects for both communities in Northern Ireland. The shortage of new housing and the large number of dwellings that were unfit or lacked basic amenities affected both Catholic and Protestant households. Given the particular problems in the rural west of the region (Hillyard et al. 1972) it is clear that the total population of these areas would have been much worse off than people living in, for example, Greater Belfast. Nevertheless, it is also highly likely, given the relative economic position of the Catholic community at that time[7], that Catholic households would have been in a significantly worse housing position than Protestants in the same area.

Some of these issueS can be explored using the 1971 Census data which is considered in Section Three. The next Section looks in some detail at the working of the Northern Ireland Housing Trust between 1945 and 1971, and considers the allegations that arose out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

NOTES

[1] For the purposes of this report information on religion is presented in terms of the dichotomy of Catholic and Protestant. In many instances the material reviewed uses only these two categories, as for example in the case of the religion reports of the Continuous Household Surveys. Even where data is available by denomination, as is the case with the Census, the information is presented for the two main religious communities. Undoubtedly there are some differences in housing circumstances between the Protestant denominations in Northern Ireland but the most important political, social and economic divide in the region is that between Catholic and Protestant. For this reason this review, like the two previous ones (Gallagher 1989, 1991), concentrates on differentials between Catholics and Protestants.

[2] Determining whether or not an area is residentially segregated is not a straight-forward matter, it depends to a great extent on the geographical boundaries decided upon. Often areas which appear mixed contain, for example, streets which are total segregated. A further matter is the degree of social contact which might be totally lacking even in areas which are apparently highly mixed.

[3] As will be discussed latter (Section Four) the extent of segregation has fluctuated during this period with changes in the level of communal conflict. Inter-marriage between the communities, in addition to people changing their religious denomination, has also had the effect of encouraging mixed residential areas. However, periods of communal violence have resulted of increasing segregation with previously mixed areas becoming predominately one religion.

[4] Census reports for Belfast County Borough show intercensal population increases ranging between 19.3 per cent and 43.4 per cent during the period 1821 to 1901 (Northern Ireland General Register Office 1963). The surplus of housing was therefore more likely to have been due to over building and not a result of a lack of demand.

[5] Lawrence, R.J. (1 965) The Government of Northern Ireland 1921-1965.. Public Finance and Public Services. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[6] Of the approximately 51,300 new dwellings built during 1919 to 1942, some 9,000 were built without state subsidy by private builders (see Lawrence 1965) but no yearly figures are available.

[7] See, for example, Smith and Chambers (1991) chapter 1.


Data for Figure 1.1 Subsidised new house building, by sector, 1919 to 1941

Year
Total subsidised new build
Local authorities
Private
builders
Cottages
1919
469
331
331
38
1920
469
331
331
38
1921
469
331
331
38
1922
469
331
331
38
1923
469
331
331
38
1924
102
0
0
0
1925
748
73
73
0
1926
2288
882
882
24
1927
1943
123
123
316
1928
2624
91
91
391
1929
4662
198
198
844
1930
4872
300
300
32
1931
5352
144
144
172
1932
2681
37
37
79
1933
632
15
15
63
1934
482
20
20
16
1935
1201
50
50
0
1936
3737
20
20
0
1937
4925
213
213
0
1938
350
0
0
350
1939
1116
16
16
1100
1940
169
0
0
169
1941
400
0
0
400
1942
0
0
0
0
1943
0
0
0
0
1944
0
0
0
0
1945
0
0
0
0

Note: Yearly figures not available for 1919 to 1923, average given
Source: Birrell et al. (1971), Table 2.1



Data for Figure 1.2 New house building, by sector, 1946 to 1970

Year
Total
Local
authorities
NIHT
Other
public
Private
1946
579
92
140
0
263
1947
1195
250
427
0
272
1948
4847
1116
2064
28
1562
1949
7630
2932
1928
103
2514
1950
7359
2788
1459
199
2902
1951
7025
2159
1740
192
2926
1952
8399
4034
1883
132
2347
1953
8023
3918
2115
44
1945
1954
6324
2927
1418
192
1787
1955
7028
2223
1998
171
2636
1956
7049
2572
1871
336
2270
1957
6500
2217
1502
452
2329
1958
4938
1270
1494
102
2072
1959
4894
1424
956
56
2458
1960
6437
2226
1252
183
2776
1961
7099
2406
1291
188
3214
1962
8215
3071
1416
317
3411
1963
8842
4188
1536
195
2923
1964
9516
4107
2023
216
3170
1965
8937
2789
2560
225
3363
1966
10500
3588
3338
299
3275
1967
11099
4088
3092
149
3770
1968
12120
5493
2431
121
4075
1969
11531
4950
2226
142
4213
1970
11834
4734
2958
104
4038

Source: Birrell et al. (1971), Table 3.4

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