CAIN: Issues: Housing - Intimidation in Housing by John Darby (1974) - Chapter 9

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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 9

General Observations

In general, one of the most noticeable factors in the enforced movements within estates is the geographical situation of the estate. Although there are fewer Catholic families (about 25%) to Protestant families in Belfast[1], the great majority (80%+) of housing movements resulting from intimidation are Catholics. On the other hand, a glance at a demographic map of the city shows that the exclusive Catholic parts of Belfast are geographically confined to the major "wedge" and enclaves west of the Lagan. The situation, then, is that large numbers of refugee families are pouring into already overcrowded areas. It is absolutely inevitable in these circumstances that the Catholic parts of the city will expand. However, in some of these parts expansion is difficult as it would produce immediate confrontation with strong Protestant communities. The one large Catholic ghetto not hemmed in by Protestant estates or physical barriers like the Black Mountain, is in West Belfast. Much of the outmovements of Protestant families, therefore, has been from Protestant estates which feel threatened by the expansion of this area. Thus it was with New Barnsley in 1970: and with Lenadoon, and even Twinbrook in 1972.

We have mentioned the influx of intimidated families into Catholic strongholds especially in West Belfast. Most of these families came from areas with Catholic minorities, like Castlereagh and Cregagh, Rathcoole, Willowfield and the Ballysillan estates. A pattern emerges of the Catholic evacuee from Rathcoole or Willowfield finding a home in Twinbrook or Suffolk; and the Protestant who had previosuy owned the house in Twinbrook or Suffolk moving into Rathcoole. A Catholic family in Rathcoole is intimidated out to make room for the incoming Protestant family. Thus each movement creates pressure in the appropriate reception area, pressure which might result in intimidation threats for a family in that area. And so it goes on. The process is dynamic and tends to escalate.

There are a number of characteristics observable in many of the areas worst hit by intimidation. The first of these takes place before the intimidation starts. There is frequently a number of people who can anticipate that their neighbourhood is likely to come under pressure, and their foresight prompts them to leave in advance. These tend to be the more educated, materially better-off householder than the average - a creaming-off of the area's natural leaders. Thus, when the crunch comes, many of those who might play a vital role in keeping the community together no longer live there.

The crunch itself, when it does come, has no stereotype. There have been cases where individual families of minority groups have been directly intimidated by marauding mobs - like those in Willowfield in East Belfast; there has been community pressure of a more subtle nature in many estates; some of the most volatile estates have experienced no pressure against individuals at all. In New Barnsley and Lenadoon, for example, there was sufficient danger in the general situations to provoke large-scale evacuations, but there was comparatively little direct person intimidation. It is important to observe that the effects of general violence can be every bit as intimidating as the gunmen standing at a door. "It is no longer a matter of individual intimidation now, but of mass intimidation in housing estates."[2]

It is possible to construct a model which summarises the process of change resulting from intimidation in many districts of the Belfast urban area.

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3

In August 1969 many of the potential conflict areas in Belfast resembled Stage 1 on the model. The dividing line between Catholic and Protestant areas was not clearly defined, as there was often a middle area where the two communities mingled peacefully. When the area came under pressure, the mixed area was the first to go. Thus in August 1969 the boundary between the Lower Falls and the Lower Shankill became sharply defined - a definition later to be confirmed by army barriers. It was not uncommon in August 1971 for families in East Belfast to exchange their homes for houses on the other side of the road - the road becoming the new recognisable boundary between the communities.

The next stage, one evident this year in The Bone and in East Belfast for example, is a further 'purification' of the boundary by the removal of any stray families left isolated in alien territory. This can be a difficult period for mixed-marriage families which feel insecure in both communities and which are often among the most tragic victims of growing polarisation.

It may even be true, though it is too early to generalise, that there are further stages in the process. This is pressure against any non-conformist in the area - the man who criticises the IRA, or the family which refuses to pay its UDA dues, even the drug addict or the sexually promiscuous. In a desperate search for security, anyone who is not completely conformist is a risk. The whole process represents an increase in polarisation, interpreted as 'a social situation in which all the positive bonds are within the groups, and all the negative bonds are between the groups' [3].

If this model applies to isolated families suffering the intimidation process, it is also applicable on a larger scale to entire areas. There are enclaves in Belfast which have come under pressure of a similar pattern to that which affected individuals. The Bone is one; Ballymacarrett was another; New Barnsley and Suffolk are others. All of these have experienced pressure because of their position. Ballymacarrett and Willowfield are districts with considerable Catholic populations which are in a generally Protestant area (East Belfast). The expansion of the large Catholic enclave of the Falls has placed pressure on Protestants living in Suffolk. Thus the territorial position of these areas is an important factor in maintaining instability.

The demographic changes which result from these processes are often disguised. The Bone again is a good example of this. Probably the population has not changed dramatically in total number of families since 1969. There has however been a revolution in the types of families occupying the area. The number of children has greatly decreased, and more old people occupy the houses: the unemployment figure has increased considerably: those middle-income families who lived in The Bone in 1969 have moved to other parts of the city: there has been an increase in the number of 'problem families' [4].

Changes of this extent are not peculiar to The Bone, although it may be represented in a radical form there. Every area which has been affected by intimidation has undergone demographic changes, and none of them is easily assessed without thorough research by the relevant bodies. At the moment in Belfast there exist, in neighbouring estates, overcrowded schools and schools with half their 1969 population; streets with vacant houses and streets where 10 - 12 people in a house is not uncommon; welfare services geared to situations which no longer exist. We cannot stress too highly the need for institutions concerned with the amenities and social services of an area to acquire, on a regular and integrated basis, accurate information about the changing needs of that area.

Perhaps the clearest single impression to emerge from our investigations was the simple fact that most people want to live within what they regard as their own community. This arises from a real fear in almost every part of the city, but particularly in the areas where houses are rented rather than owned. Nevertheless, as we have pointed out, the removal of the minority does not end intimidation, and it may even facilitate sectarian violence. The plain truth now is that there are parts of Belfast exclusively Catholic or exclusively Protestant, and this means that such targets are easily identifiable. The machine-gunning of a bus going to Turf Lodge[5] was undoubtedly based on the knowledge that there would be no Protestants on it- the same applies to the machine-gunning in the pub in Derry [6]. Segregated living patterns makes it easy for the indiscriminate sectarian killer. Generally speaking, estates comprising privately-owned dwellings have been considerably less affected by intimidation.

However we were impressed by the large number of families which we interviewed who actively want to live in mixed estates. Even many who were obliged to move house were angry at being forced by general panic from "outside elements" into "safe" areas. Many people blamed their movement on a small number of agitators who were determined to evict minorities. For such people, options are continually declining, and must be increased as a matter of urgency.

The intimidatory and violent energies of those individuals, groups and organisations motivated by sectarian perceptions stem from generation upon generation of mutual antagonisms which still exist between the divided religious/political/economic affiliations inherited by communities in Ulster. It has been seen that intimidation on the scale experienced since 1969 in various districts of the Belfast urban area has led to segregated residential environments, especially in public housing estates. It has been argued that segregation and ghetto situations lead to polarisation (at least in the short term). In periods of strife within society it is inevitable that "the family packs its belongings and seeks the security of living among its own kind, where there is both group and territorial protection"[7]. The residential harmony which comes with social consensus has eluded the population of Ireland for centuries. Indeed the events in the 3½years period since August 1969 have been interpreted as one more of a sequence of historical crises, which in the twentieth century can be diagramatically represented as follows -

(causing increased residential segregation and retreat into ghettos)

(few political/economic/educational reforms, but outmovement
from ghettos with residential mixing)

Pessimistically the situation in the early 70's has never been closer to civil war, in which event the sequence interpretation would also be shattered. No accurate future scenario could be predicted as to the outcome of such an event. Optimistically, political, educational and economic reforms could still provide a path towards peaceful revolution, but it is not possible to predict how long such a process might take.


1.F Boal and M Poole, "Religious residential segregation in Belfast in mid-1969", forthcoming in special publication No 5, Institute of British Geographers.
2. Agency interview 56.
3. Definition by R Jenkins "Conflict and Polarisation", Public 5-5, Peace Research Centre, London.
4. Agency interviews 6 - 42.
5. Date, December 1972.
6. Date, December 1972.
7. Quoted by F Boal in his article entitled "The Urban Residential sub-community - a conflict interpretation"., in 'Area', published by the Institute of British Geographers, Vol 4 No 3, 1972.

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