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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 8

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[1]. 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[2]. 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[3].

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 accelerated[4].

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)[5]. 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[6]. 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 [7].

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 [8]. Since this time a more gradual but ongoing process of segregation has been heightened by localised outbreaks of rioting and intimidation in certain estates[9].

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)[10]. 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[11]. Assessment of squatting and occupancy rates, rent collection and property repair, have not been feasible in such circumstances[12]. 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[13].

Approximate number of
intimidated families

Mar/April 1972
June/July 1972
Sept/Oct 1972
Nov/Dec 1972
)Majority of families from
)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[14]. 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[15]. 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 Forces.

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"[16].

General Remarks

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 housing estates.

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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