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Intimidation in Housing
by John Darby (1974)
Text: John Darby ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Movements outside Belfast
One of the problems in trying to assess the extent and variety
of intimidation in the smaller towns and country areas is that
none of them have an emergency housing list. Any attempt to investigate
the problem properly, therefore, would involve a lot of time and
resources. Unfortunately we were pressed for both. Consequently
our researches outside Belfast were only sufficient to point to
some important differences there, and to emphasise the need for
a full-scale research project in the country areas.
Derry city bears the closest resemblance to Belfast in that it
has experienced a considerable number of enforced housing movements
since 1969. However, an analysis of its Emergency Housing List
(outside Belfast, Derry is the only town which operates one) reveals
a number of differences.
In the first place, there are two housing bodies. The Housing
Executive has not yet taken over the responsibility of the Londonderry
City Commission and both operate public housing estates. Both
are agreed that intimidation of the type common in Belfast is
virtually non-existent. As a reason for enforced housing movement
it is of secondary importance compared to bombing.
Since 1969 there have been only 75 cases of intimidation on the
Emergency Housing List, and the City Commission housing department
reckoned that fewer than 20 of these were 'serious cases'.
When intimidation does take place it is rarely used by one
religious group against the other. Much more common is intimidation
within a religious group - thus considerable pressure is often
applied to Catholics who have relatives in the Security Forces
or Police. The Belmont Estate represents another problem particularly
noticeable in Derry. Here about 50 houses were made available
by the Ministry of Finance for policemen's families. There has
been some pressure on these families recently and about half of
them have moved.
The amount of violence in Derry has been proportionately higher
than any other part of Northern Ireland. The strain imposed by
bombings and gun battles on people, especially those suffering
from nervous disorders or heart diseases, is sometimes almost
unbearable, and frequently frightens families out of their homes.
In general, we believe that intimidation may be more widespread
in Derry than is sometimes believed. Not too much emphasis should
be placed on the relatively small number of families on the Emergency
Housing List, because most people who move as a result of intimidation
in the city find new accommodation without having recourse to
the Emergency List. The habit of exchanging houses is. common
in Derry (although much less frequent in Belfast) and the official
housing list does not categorise these changes. Nevertheless,
there appears to be considerably less intimidation in Derry this
year than last. The reason for this may be that there are virtually
no Protestants in Bogside and Creggan, nor Catholics in Waterside.
At the moment, Derry's main intimidation problem appears to be
that of coping with an influx of evacuees intimidated out of urban
areas outside the city (eg Greenisland and Rathcoole). Downpatrick
and Antrim are also having to cope with an influx of intimidates
families from Belfast.
Lurgan ~ Portadown ~ Craigavon
The Lurgan-Portadown-Craigavon urban area, located about 30 miles
west of Belfast, has become a major flash-point of intimidation
and rioting in the Province. In the year from March 1972 to March
1973 between 700-750 families have been forced to move from their
homes. This has been the result either of direct
threat made against individual families or as a result of mass
intimidation in particular public housing estates, of religious
groups living in a minority situation.
Although there had been incidents of intimidation in the Lurgan-Portadown-
Craigavon area prior to April 1972 no major flight of families
had occurred. Large-scale intimidation began after
the Vanguard Strike (27-29 March 1972). During the riots which
followed in April, outmovement of approximately 150 Catholic and
over 100 Protestant families occurred, from a number of public
housing estates in Lurgan and Portadown.
The disruptions directed against families of one religious group
caused retaliatory sectarian threat against families of the other
religious group. The trend towards segregated enclaves has rapidly
This major outbreak of trouble subsided, until an increase in
tension and violence in the locality in June and July 1972 caused
further migration of approximately 200 families (100 families
from each of the two major religious groups). Outmovement
of families in some instances was facilitated by direct exchanges
of houses between threatened families from different estates.
For example the addresses of families intimidated in Lurgan in
Spring 1972, which have come to the attention of the Housing Executive,
indicate that one-third of the moves involved direct exchange
of houses between intimidated Protestant and intimidated Catholic
families in two estates. There is evidence that
squatting became organised in certain estates by local groups
which advertised the fact that all housing allocation would be
carried out under their control .
New housing estates in Craigavon have become havens for refugees
and opportunist squatters moving from Lurgan, Portadown and Belfast,
and between estates in Craigavon. Close consultation and co-operation
between representatives of the Craigavon Development Commission
and the Housing Executive are necessary in these circumstances.
Squatting of Both Catholic and Protestant families in many estates
in Lurgan, Portadown and Craigavon brings into question the degree
of control exercised by the housing authorities over allocation
and maintenance of housing in these districts.
Since July 1972 a situation of continuing tension and fear has
become a fact of life for families resident in many estates in
Lurgan and Portadown. A further upsurge of intimidation in September/October
1972, following a spate of local bomb explosions and sectarian
murders, caused another 150 families living in minority situations
to migrate to those 'safe areas' which provide security
in numbers . Since this time a more gradual but
ongoing process of segregation has been heightened by localised
outbreaks of rioting and intimidation in certain estates.
As local Housing Executive officials point out that squatting
occurred when advantage was taken of the situation of general
apprehension in the Lurgan-Portadown-Craigavon district, and that
this has continued to date (February 1973). However,
the extent of this type of opportunist squatting is not 'possible
to estimate with any degree of accuracy.
The position of local housing managers is aggravated by the lack
of directives on squatting, by rent strikes, and by the fact that
local housing representatives have not found it possible to visit
their property for 2 years in certain housing estates in Lurgan.
Assessment of squatting and occupancy rates, rent collection and
property repair, have not been feasible in such circumstances.
It has not been possible to halt the continuing exodus of intimidated
families - between October 1972-February 1973 the average rate
of intimidation of people from their homes in the district has
been at about one family per day, adding at least another 120
families to the list.
Approximate number of
||60||)Majority of families from
||60||)Catholic minority residential groups
In February 1973 the situation was that of a number of Protestant
estates which are controlled by the UDA, whilst Republican militants
hold sway in a number of Catholic estates. Perhaps inevitably
formerly mixed estates have tended to become overwhelmingly Catholic
or overwhelmingly Protestant. Polarisation of communities in Lurgan
and Portadown has accompanied the flight of population induced
by sectarian strife.
The RUC and Army patrol estates on a regular basis, but at present
the forces deployed have insufficient manpower for adequate surveillance.
When crisis situations of rioting and intimidation periodically
recur the Security Forces find it difficult to maintain control.
In addition peace-keeping forces are so over-extended that respect
for law and order has diminished in those estates where militant
extremists are most active. In Lurgan and Portadown
an inadequate number of Police make it difficult to conduct adequate
patrolling of some estates. Without an increased number of police
personnel and assurance of backing by the deterrent of army presence
in these estates it is not possible for the security forces to
maintain law and order. If counter measures are not implemented
then paramilitary forces will continue to control the situation
in certain estates. Further polarisation is likely to occur with
the added anxiety that potential disruptions in other estates
will further stretch the manpower and resources of the Security
The RUC is likely to remain ineffective without information and
co-operation from local people. The situation might be improved
by a community relations programme, together with an intensive
anti- intimidation campaign in the local press, and on radio and
television, to persuade the communities that ".... its
up to the people themselves. It's up to them to say 'We're not
having any more of this', and stand up to the bully-boys who disguise
themselves as Republicans or Loyalists".
An important point to make is that the majority of towns in Northern
Ireland have experienced little or no intimidation problems. This
is particularly true of towns which do not have identifiably sectarian
Even in some of the towns which have some Protestant or Catholic
estates intimidation has not been a major problem. In Dungannon,
for example, the reason for this is that housing exchanges are
often amiably arranged. Thus, if a Protestant group in a predominantly
Catholic estate wants to move into a predominantly Protestant
one, he contacts a Catholic living in that estate and suggests
an exchange. Nevertheless, there has been an increasing tendency
of late for families to select estates for sectarian reasons.
It is important to point out however that there are estates in
Dungannon in which Catholics and Protestants mingle without any
conflict. There is indeed evidence that, in some towns outside
Belfast, a 50-50 religious mix is just as stable as one of 100-0.
It is in towns like Lurgan, Portadown and Armagh that intimidation
most often occurs. These have clearly defined religious areas
and it is therefore correspondingly easier to apply collective
pressure. It soon became clear to us that the problems' involved
in investigating intimidation in the country areas were too great
for the time and resources envisaged for our study.
|1.||This estimate was compiled from two Confidential Reports of major outbreaks of intimidation in the area, from two interviews with Police officials, two interviews with local Housing Executive managers, and from various newspaper reports.|
This estimate does not include intimidation in some older established residential districts of Lurgan and Porta down. For example in the older part of Porta down known as the 'Tunnel District', outbreaks of intimidation since the Vanguard Strike in March 1972 have not been taken into account.
|2. ||Agency interview 63.
|3. ||Agency interviews 63 and 64.
|4. ||Agency interview 64.
|5. ||Agency interviews, and figures quoted from a Confidential Report, are the basis of these estimates.
|6. ||ie: the Avenue Road and Taghnevan estates in Lurgan.
|7. ||eg: the Kilwilke and Taghnevan estates in Lurgan, and the Churchill Park estate in Portadown.
|8.|| Confidential Report on Intimidation prepared by a local committee for intimidation relief, October 1972.
|9. ||Agency interviews 63 and 64.
|10. ||Agency interviews 65 and 66.
|Kilwilke estate in Lurgan is a case in point. Visits to the Kilwilke estate in July 1972 and February 1973 confirmed that the number of squatters is nearer 100 families than official estimates (26 families). In addition between one-third and one half of the maisonettes in this estate are lying vandalised and unoccupied. The rent strike continues in this estate.
|13.|| Compiled from the sources indicated in footnote 1.
|14. ||Killicomaine in Portadown is an example of a housing estate which has experienced major recurrences of unrest since early 1972. The Security Forces have been unable to control the situation and correspondingly sharp decreases in the numbers of Catholic minority families are evident. (Agency interview and newspaper reports.)
|15. ||Agency interviews 63 and 64.
|16. ||Agency interview.
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