CAIN: Issues: Housing - Intimidation in Housing by John Darby (1974) - Chapter 7

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Intimidation in Housing
by John Darby (1974)

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: John Darby ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Chapter 7

Movements in Belfast

As indicated in Chapter 2, this chapter is an in-depth study of a 13-week period within the longer time-scale of our study. Consequently the methodology adopted is discussed separately from that described previously. It is outlined below:-

The housing displacement in Belfast which has taken place since 1969 has perhaps inevitably been documented in spasms. Michael Poole of Queen's University, Geography Department, recorded the largest movement of all - that which reached its peak on August 14 and 15 1969 following serious rioting in the city[l]. A research unit of the Community Relations Commission chronicled the housing displacements following internment in 1971[2]. Each of these movements followed a cataclysmic event. Although no such phenomenon took place in the spring of 1972, intimidation clearly increased during the period. The 13 weeks studied in this survey therefore demonstrate the intimidation process under different circumstances than the previous ones.

Thus the data described in this Chapter refers to the period between May 1 1972 and August 1 1972. To have returned to the terminal date of the Flight research (August 1972) would have involved us in a task which would not have been possible to tackle without much greater resources. However, we believe that the 13-week period can be regarded as a representative sample of the continuing situation since August 1972. The restricted period allowed us to examine all the available housing movement data relating to this period, and eliminated the need for extracting a larger sample from within a longer study-period.

Thus as regards the time framework of our Research relating to this chapter, a specifically delineated period was chosen and rigidly adhered to. This provided a very useful in-depth study to complement the open- ended approach which we adopted in the rest of our study. We believe that this combination provides an accurately documented picture of intimidation in Ulster, during the thirteen weeks studied.


The object of this study is the examination of the housing movements in Belfast which resulted from intimidation between May 1 and August 1 1972, a period of 13 weeks with the intention of

1. Providing information vital to policy-making.
2.Testing a number of hypotheses about the mechanics of population movement. These include
a. The movement pattern for 1972 was similar to that of August 1971.
b. The movements have increased segregation within the city.
c. Refugee movement of families from the two different religious sects shows variation from a spatial (or territorial) point of view.
d. There is a cyclical trend in the movements.
e.The movements contain a high percentage of large families


The difficulties of collecting reliable and complete data on residential displacement are well known to researchers. These are as follows:
(1) a forced reliance on 'official' sources although some intimidated families do not contact any official agency; (2) distinguishing between temporary and permanent movements; and (3) checking on the reliability of cases which do not appear on official lists. The first difficulty will be discussed in more detail following; the second was not possible to overcome from a statistical viewpoint and is not elaborated upon. In the case of official data where there was evidence that movements had occurred', there was no difficulty encountered (a rehousing address was taken as evidence of a permanent move); thirdly, 'unofficial' information sources presented some difficulties. Poole in 1969 had actually rejected the data from all but official bodies in his researches, aiming at "the maximum accuracy of estimates achievable in practice". Unfortunately this eliminates important material, and may produce an incomplete picture.

In our research "unofficial" sources were also taken into account where statistically information could be checked as to accuracy. This data assembled by Tenants' Associations and community associations, parish records, and school enrolment figures were considered. Where random follow-up checks verified accuracy and where cross-checking against the Belfast Street Directory came within 5% of a norm (establish by a similar cross-checking of 'official' Housing Executive lists), then 'unofficial' data was accepted as valid. Duplications were eliminated by comparing intimidation cases on 'unofficial' lists with intimidation cases on 'official' lists.

The official and semi-official sources from which we obtained data were

  1. Belfast Housing Executive Emergency Housing List
  2. Belfast Welfare Authority Transport Dept. Co Down Welfare Dept.
  3. The Public Protection Agency
  4. The Housing Aid Society
The information obtained from these sources was condensed on cards again after names and addresses appearing on the different 'official' lists were compared, and duplications accounted for. The information extracted detailed for each family
  1. The religion (if known) of the evacuee
  2. The reason for the movement
  3. The date of intimidation
  4. The family size
  5. The original address
  6. The destination address
This enabled us to examine in detail the patterns in the movements. Regarding Nos. 5 and 6, movements were plotted in two ways:-
  1. according to the zoning system devised by Building Design Partnership in 1966 and used in previous research of this nature, and
  2. by combining the zones into larger urban areas within Belfast, making five main divisions of the city.

This enabled us to compare present and past detailed patterns, but also allowed wider interpretations to be made.


The most important point to be made when assessing the total number of extraordinary housing moves which took place during the 13-week period is that there are at least 4 categories of such movement, two of which are virtually impossible to assess. As a result the figures under discussion probably tend towards a considerable understatement of the total number of families intimidated from their homes during the period studied.

1. Squatters. The squatting problem has reached almost epidemic proportions with 3,300 families squatting in Housing Executive property on Feb. 1st 1973. It is difficult to make an accurate assessment of how many squatters have moved as a result of intimidation. It is known, however, that 768 families squatted in Housing Executive houses during the 13 weeks of our study, 544 of them in the Belfast conurbation [3], and that this estimate is a minimum one (see also Chapter 9).

2. Owners of private houses. There is no agency which deals specifically with the movement of families (owners/occupiers) moving from one privately owned property to another privately owned property. The Housing Executive and Belfast Housing Aid Society both help a proportion of intimidated owner occupiers; but there is no full documentation of these movements, either as regards intimidation of people from private property or of the extent of squatting in private property. It is therefore not possible to assess accurately the extent of these problems[4].

3. Evacuees who did not contact any Relief Agency. One significant group in this category consists of people who leave Northern Ireland, often without contacting any agency. Since no formality is attached to moving into Britain it is impossible to say much about these families without entering into surmise. Shelter Housing Aid (London) have provided figures on intimidated people who fled Northern Ireland and who have contacted housing aid officers in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow [5]. No other sources exist to further quantify this aspect, but the increase in the number of applications for assisted passage from Northern Ireland to Australia demonstrates the general violence in the Province. The other important group in this category consists of those families moving within Northern Ireland who did not contact any agency. By definition it is not possible to make any estimate of the numbers involved without the expense in time and money of a major survey.[6]

4. Cases known to 'official' and 'unofficial' or voluntary sources -those considered in the following survey. Information was collected on a total of 508 families; 34 of these were rejected due to insufficient information (most had no dates and therefore might have occurred outside the time of study). Some of the remainder lacked full details, which accounts for their removal from detailed analysis. However the number of housing movements during the 13 week period about which we have sufficient data is 474. If the 544 families indicated category one are added to this, the total number of known extraordinary housing movements in the period is at least 1,018 families (categories 1 and 4). How many would be added by categories 2 and 3 is impossible to estimate. As the average family size of the cases we examined is 4.0, the total number of people involved is in the region of 4,000.



The breakdown of the size of families which were forced to leave their homes is as follows. They are expressed as percentages of the total.

Family size

The Catholic families which moved were rather larger in average than the Protestant. The average size of Catholic families was 4.5 persons, while Protestant families averaged 3.1 members.

The average size of all the families which moved, with the exception of old age pensioners, was almost exactly 4.00.


During the 13 week period chosen as the time framework, of the 474 cases examined in detail, 222 were Catholic, 110 Protestant and the religion of the remaining 142 was not known[7]. Nor was it possible to specify the number of mixed marriage partners who were involved, since this information was not usually detailed in the official records. Thus about 66% of those who religion is known were Catholic and 34% Protestant. When this is compared with the figures quoted in the 'Flight' research of August 1971, where 60% of the cases examined were Catholic, a not insignificant increase is represented.

A further breakdown of the cases reveals some significant patterns. The Housing Executive's Emergency Housing List divides its cases into 6 different categories which further break down into 3 main groups: cases of intimidation (60% of total), cases of people whose houses became uninhabitable as a result of bombing or malicious fire (28%), and squatters (12%). The religious breakdown of these 3 groups reveal considerable differences.

Reason for moving
Bombing or fire

The high percentage (82%) of Catholics who moved as a result of direct intimidation compares very closely with the 83% estimated by Michael Poole of the 1969 movements. In the Flight research of 1971, the religious breakdown was quoted as 60% Catholic and 40% Protestant, but it did not distinguish between sectarian intimidation, and movements resulting from the IRA bomb campaign. Since there was no bombing campaign in 1969, Poole's figures are more likely to be an accurate reflection of the extent of housing evacuation resulting purely from sectarian conflict. The higher percentage of Protestants who moved as the result of bombs or malicious fires probably reflects the fact that many of the terrorist bombs in the period (May-August 1972) were planted in Protestant areas; the consequent damage to surrounding property resulted in considerable residential displacement for Protestants.


The variations in movements from week to week reveal two significant correlations. The first is the close relationship between major bomb explosions and housing movement. Most of these bombs had as their primary target an industrial or commercial concern. However many of them, especially those planted in the older parts of the city, had the effect of making residential property in the vicinity uninhabitable.

The other observable phenomenon is that the weeks before July 12th represent a gradual and noticeable increase in tension. Equally observable is the falling off immediately after it.


We have divided Belfast into 5 main areas, each of which is further divided into the zones defined by Building Design Partnership. These are:

North Belfast: From Belfast Lough to Clifton St, Oldpark Road, and including the Ballysillan estates.
North-west Belfast: From Clifton St etc to the Falls - Shankill Peaceline, Springfield Rd and Springfield Park.
West Belfast: From the Peaceline etc to the Ml motorway.
South Belfast: From the Motorway to the Lagan.
East Belfast: All areas east of the Lagan.

Full details (ie both the original address of the evacuee and his destination) were available for 353 movements in and out of these areas. They break down like this.

Movements out of area (expressed as %)
Movements into area (expressed as %)
Outside Belfast

The most noticeable features of the inter-area movements are

  1. The heavy concentration of movement in the north, north-west and west of the city (70% of total outward movement and 71% of the total inward movements). These areas continue to bear the brunt of the residential displacement. In 1969 89% of the displaced families came from these areas.

  2. It is hardly surprising that the number of Belfast people leaving the city considerably exceeds the number of outsiders who came in.

  3. Further breakdown shows that 145 families (41%) moved to another address within the same area of the city. This phenomenon was even more marked if North Belfast, North-west Belfast and West Belfast are regarded as an entity. 172 (49%) of all the movements were from one address in this area to another.

North and North-west

Although North and North-west are two distinct areas which experienced different types of housing movement, we have decided to discuss them as a unit. The reason is that the regions adjoining the Oldpark Road form an obvious unit, but the Oldpark Road is the boundary between North and North-west. The major movements in the larger area took place in Rathcoole and Oldpark.

There are 35 fully detailed moves from Rathcoole (Zone 812) almost all Catholics. In fact we have details about further moves whose destinations are not known. Many of these families are now squatting in West Belfast, especially in Twinbrook estate. In contrast, the Emergency Housing List shows virtually no movements into Rathcoole, although almost all the abandoned houses in the estate were quickly occupied by squatters, many of them from Oldpark and Ardoyne and almost all Protestant.

A total of 74 families moved from the three zones (212, 213 and 261) alongside the Oldpark Road, 65% of these were Protestants, and they mainly dispersed to Rathcoole and the Ballysillan estates. Three zones (212, 213 and 261) cover the parts of the Oldpark Road in which most movement took place.

Ten families, all of them Protestant, moved into the Ballygomartin area. The other noticeable factor about the Oldpark movements is that there was considerable redistribution of families within the area: in particular, many Catholic families in the predominantly Protestant lower Oldpark moved up the road into the predominantly Catholic Bone area.

Ardoyne, which suffered most in the post-internment movements in 1971, remained relatively stable with only 18 families leaving the area.


Almost twice as many families moved into West Belfast as moved out of it (122 as opposed to 70). The greatest concentrations (53%) of these movements were Andersonstown (zone 831), Dunmurry (zone 824) and Suffolk (zone 833). No less than 94% of these movements were Catholic.

The only areas in West Belfast which experienced much out-movement were the middle Springfield Road (zones 332/333) and Suffolk (zone 833). The former followed an outbreak of intimidation against Catholics in the Clovelly St area which resulted in considerable movement. The movements from Suffolk was mainly a Protestant evacuation of lower Lenadoon, following considerable gunfire in the area and the events which accompanied the ending of the Provisional IRA truce.


South Belfast, which contains large concentrations of privately-owned houses, experienced comparatively little disturbance, although the six months subsequent to the period examined in this chapter has seen an escalation of intimidation into various neighbourhood pockets of south Belfast.


20% of the families who left their homes in the period under study had lived in East Belfast. The movements were rather different from those observed in August 1971. Then there had been flash-points at Ballybeen and in the lower Newtownards Road. This year however the exodus was much more widely spread and included the departure of mainly Catholic families from almost every area east of the River - Cregagh, Castlereagh, Tullycarnet, Willowfield and Dundonald.

These families almost invariably settled in strongly Catholic areas. Thus many of the squatters in Twinbrook were Catholics from East Belfast. Willowfield, which contains small Catholic enclave in East Belfast, provided a settling-place for 17 families. Almost all of these families were from scattered locations in East Belfast, and all of them were Catholics mostly seeking (temporary) refuge before moving to 'safe' areas in other parts of Belfast. The other flash-point area in East Belfast during this period was the Short Strand district (zone 611). 26 families in this zone left their homes in the period, and 17 moved into the area, mostly from scattered locations in East Belfast. Most of the out- movements followed the Anderson Street bomb on May 27th, and the movements into the area all came from East Belfast, many of them bomb victims who moved to new addresses close to their old homes.


a. 'The movement pattern for 1972 was similar to that of 1971".
b. "The movements have increased segregation within the city".

At a first glance there are similarities between the pattern of movement this year and those which emerged from earlier studies. For example, the concentration of movement in North and West Belfast is a familiar pattern from 1969 and 1971. On the other hand, many of the areas which were severely affected in August 1971 were relatively stable this year -including the New Lodge Road, Ardoyne, Grosvenor Road, and Bryson Street! Madrid Street.

The reason for this may well be that these 1971 conflict areas had, as a result of the conflict, become more distinctly segregated by the removal of a mixed-religion buffer zone between them. It is observable that the other areas identified in 'Flight' (the 1971 Research paper), especially Suffolk and Oldpark, experienced a lot of unrest because the territorial argument has not been settled yet; both had mixed religions in the areas between the two segregated antagonists. The events of 1972 have removed this buffer zone in Suffolk, although the Oldpark picture is still volatile. Thus the movements of the 13-week period have increased the number of face-to-face areas in the city. It also appears that, both in August 1971 and in the period covered by our study there were no violent confrontations in areas where exclusively Catholic areas faced exclusively Protestant areas.

The existence of mixed-religious zones account for almost all the major flash-points (Oldpark, Suffolk, Rathcoole).

Two other factors which appear to have gathered importance in provoking residential instability are the number of squatters and the increased organisation of evacuations. As regards the first of these factors, it is not an exaggeration to claim that squatting has become the most direct way of acquiring a new house - more than 3,000 families are currently squatting in Housing Executive property. The attraction of a rent-free property with reasonable short-time security of tenure - very few evictions have taken place - has greatly increased residential mobility in the city. One of the effects of this situation is that many families which are genuine cases of hardship have found that application for emergency housing status is unsuccessful. In the circumstances the most effective way of securing accommodation is to squat.

The second factor is one which has been noticed before, but only on an ad hoc basis. Since 1971, however, there is considerable evidence that organised groups, including the IRA Provisionals and the UDA, have on various occasions encouraged intimidation for tactical reasons. A senior police officer informed us "I don't know about a strategy, but there are definite tactical moves"(8). Increasingly the population patterns in Belfast are regarded in a territorial way - the Provisional IRA pressure in Suffolk and the UDA pressure in Rathcoole appear to have been aimed at producing areas which are more easily controlled by the organisations. There is, we believe, urgent need of more research into this disturbing trend.

c. "Refugee movement of either sect is basically different from a spatial or territorial point of view"

Our main findings regarding the movement patterns of Catholics and Protestants confirm the continuation of the trends described in 'Flight'. "Protestants are tending to move out to the newer housing areas on the city's margins and Catholics are crowding into the Falls / Andersonstown sector of the city and the older housing in North Belfast" [9]. The patterns were largely repeated, the Protestants who evacuated Suffolk and the Oldpark area mainly found new homes in Rathcoole, the Ballysillan estates and Ballygomartin. Many of these Protestants moved into dispersed locations throughout East Belfast.

The major movements have been different in type. All the predominantly Catholic areas of the city experienced an influx of families, both from predominantly Protestant areas like East Belfast and from disputed estates like Rathcoole. Often these families sought security in the nearest Catholic area. There was a large flow into Andersonstown in West Belfast and in the North the Oldpark area attracted Catholic refugees; even the small Catholic Willowfield district in East Belfast had its intake. Following on similar movements in 1969 and 1971, this resulted in considerable overcrowding in the Catholic areas. The explosion of these areas was almost inevitable, as when the Catholic Bone area in the Oldpark Road expanded across into the Ballybone. There appears to be little doubt that the disturbances In Lenadoon (Suffolk) were at least partly caused by the same process. The Catholic incursions into Twinbrook certainly took place because that part of the western reaches of Belfast was seen to fall inside a Catholic expansion area -thus offering future security to its new squatters.

d. "There is a cyclical trend in the movements".

The graph representing the weekly numbers of families who moved from their home as a result of intimidation confirms the pattern in which many people intuitively believed. There was a gradual increase in the number of movements beginning in early May and coming to a peak during the 'Twelfth week'. Thereafter an easing-off takes place. We were unable, however, on the other evidence we collected to make any definite statements about whether or not there is an annual pattern of intimidation apart from the annual increase from Spring to early July - another useful area for further research.

e. "The movements contain a high percentage of large families"

One reason for testing this hypothesis was to discover whether or not families with large numbers of children were among the first to leave what they regarded as dangerous areas. Our figures however do not confirm this. 69% of the families which moved had four or less numbers, including the parents, and families with more than 8 members comprised only 2% of the total. From empirical evidence gathered for the rest of this study, we believe that the low percentage figure of large families is even more disturbing. It is not because large families suffer less intimidation, but because they are the most reluctant to move as a result of it. The difficulties facing a large family which has been intimidated - not least the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation for all the children -are immeasurably greater than for those with small families and often are powerful enough to override the real physical fear of remaining. As a result, large families are often the last to leave. It is difficult to overestimate the social consequences for large families of being forcibly imprisoned in the most dangerous areas of all, with both the physical and mental danger to the children. This state of affairs deserves the special consideration of the Relief Agencies.


1. M Poole: "Religious displacement in the Summer of 1969". Fortnight, August 1971.
2. Community Relations Commission 'Flight' - August 1971.
3. Squatting figures from Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
4. Agency interview 74.
5. Source of information: Agency interview 18.
6. The results of which might be questionable.
7. Research on the 1969 movements attempted to overcome this difficulty by checking out names of families of unknown religions from Catholic Parish records. However there remained a residue of unidentified families who were designated as Protestant. This procedure is also lengthy and was not adopted in our study.
8. Agency interview 13.
9. 'Flight', op. cit.

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