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

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Intimidation in Housing
by John Darby (1974)

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Text: John Darby ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Total Movements : August '69 - Feb '73

It is impossible to estimate accurately the total number of families which were forced to leave their homes since August 1969, when the first in the latest series of flights took place. During that period, however, four time spans have been the subjects of research enquiries.

Table 1: Enforced Population movement in Greater Belfast area
1969-1973: Research findings.

Period studiedFamilies
1969 Summer3570 [1]
1970 Summer175 [2]
1971 August2500 [3]
1972 May 1 - July 31508 [4]
Total (Research findings)6753

It is important to make a number of points about these figures. In the first place, they only refer to families which contacted either official or unofficial agencies; so they exclude many of those who squatted without informing any agency, many of those which emigrated or which moved to Britain or the Republic of Ireland, private houseowners who sold their houses and families who sought refuge with their relations.

Furthermore the four periods detailed above amount to no more than a total of approximately 10 months out of three and a half years. It is difficult to secure reliable figures for the gaps between these four investigations. One agency which kept reliable and dated data on its cases was the Belfast Housing Aid Society (BHAS), which only came into contact with a fraction of the total number of cases. Nevertheless, these are certified cases which can be added to the table.

Table 2: Belfast Housing Aid Society: Families assisted
during periods not covered in Table 1

(Excluding New Barnsley)

872 [5]
1971 September/1972 May 1391 [6]
1972 August/1973 February164 [7]

Table 3: Total known and recorded movements of intimidated families

Research Findings6753
BHAS figures1427

Thus, firm evidence exists of a total of 8180 families who were forced to evacuate their homes between August 1969 and February 1973.

This figure is a considerable underestimate, partly for the reasons mentioned above, and partly because the Belfast Housing Aid Society, by nature of its limited functions and resources, only deals with a fraction of the total number of families which fled from their homes. As the BHAS has records of its total number of cases during one of the periods which was more fully researched, it is possible to calculate the ratio of BHAS cases to total cases during that period. Between May 1 and August 1 1972, the period examined in Chapter 6, 508 families left their homes and BHAS dealt with 89 of them. Thus the ratio of BHAS cases to total family movement was 1 : 5.6.

If this ratio were projected to all the BHAS figures in table 2, the figures produced are likely to give a fair indication of the maximum total number of families which were forced to leave their homes during those periods. This would produce a figure of 7991 families (ie, the Table 2 total multiplied by 5.6) to be added to the total reached in Table 1, making a grand total of 14,744 families.

It is possible to cross-check this projected figure (which is based on the cases of the Belfast Housing Aid Society) by reference to the 13-week sample period which was examined in detail in Chapter 7 of this report. This was a period which was not characterised by an extra-ordinary evacuation such as occurred in August 1969, Summer 1970 or August 1971. Although it is appreciated that the extent of housing movement probably generally increased between August 1969 and February 1972, it can be suggested that the 13-week period is not untypical of the non-crisis periods since 1969, which have not been documented. Consequently, if the rate of intimidation is projected to these non-crisis periods (ie, those periods since 1969 not covered in Table 1) the following figures are reached:

Table 3: Projected housing movements for periods not covered in Table 1,
based on 13-week sample

1969 (last four months)664
1970 (Excluding New Barnsley)1826
1971 (Excluding August)1826
1972 (Excluding May 1/July 1)1494
1973 (January/February)332

To this should be added the 6753 families detected by researchers, producing a projected total of 12,895 families.

Our estimate of the total enforced movements in the Belfast area between August 1969 and February 1973 is between 8,000 families (minimum) and approximately 15,000 families (maximum). Based on an average family size of four the figure suggested by our investigation, this indicates a total of between 30,000 and 60,000 people who were forced to evacuate their homes - roughly between 6.6% and 11.8% of the population of the Belfast Urban area.


1. M Poole "Residential displacement in Belfast in the Summer of 2969" Although Poole only considered in detail the 1820 cases which had contacted official agencies, he found a total of 3570 different families on all the lists.
2. This figure represents only the families which left the New Barnuley estate in West Belfast, and was discovered during the researches for this paper.
3.N.I.C.R.C. Research Unit, "Flight".. Here the figure was 2069, which was reached before all data was collected. Black in "Flight in Belfast" (Community Forum, Vol 2 No 1) estimated the total figure as 2500.
4. See Chapter 7.
5. The BHAS dealt with a total of 1047 cases in 1970. The figure of 872 has been obtained by subtracting from this total the 175 New Barnsley cases in the first table.
6. Records of BHAS. Records covering the period Jan 1 1971 and August 1971 were not available.
7. Records of BHAS.



Two researchers conducted this investigation between July 1972 and February 1973, with help from a research assistant for part of that period. Because of this time pressure, it was decided to confine the study to intimidation in Housing (ie, not in employment), and to concentrate on the Greater Belfast area.

These were the main aims:-

1. A summary of the available literature on intimidation.
2. Demonstration of the complexity and variety of the intimidation process by random case studies of individual families, together with analysis of the intimidation process in specific communities.
3. Detailing of the activities of the agencies involved in dealing with intimidation and assessment of their efficiency.
4. Outlining of housing policy implications raised by induced housing movements and squatting.
5. Recommending means of combating intimidation and of providing immediate help, compensation and protection for people facing displacement from their homes.
6. Identification of research needs regarding intimidation.

Although investigations included a total of 153 formal recorded interviews (included in this total are 29 follow-up interviews), 52 of these could be described as face-to-face interviews with families (8 of which were follow-up interviews); and the remaining 101 were Agency interviews. Of the Agency interviews 78 concerned Official agencies.

In addition to these interviews we were supplied with data about intimidated families from 31 sources.


No statistics can adequately reflect the degree of human misery and panic which results from intimidation. As part of our investigation we followed through the case of 44 families which had been forced to leave their homes.

Main Findings
No agency employs social case workers whose function it is to deal with all the problems of intimidated families on an integrated basis. The result is that these people, who are often in a state of distress, must try to find out which agencies or organisations can help them, and then call at the headquarters of these bodies. This can involve up to a dozen visits - to local groups, churches, hospitals, the Housing Executive, Belfast Housing Aid Society, the Public Protection Agency, RUC, Army. Considerable hardship often results, with no guarantee that the families will secure all their entitlements.

This particularly applies to large families. Between May 1 and August 1 1972 less than 2% of the families which were forced to flee from their homes had eight or more members (including parents). From the evidence of interviews it is clear that the major reason for this is the much greater difficulty which larger families encounter in finding suitable alternative accommodation. Thus the families which come under most pressure are those which are often forced to remain in an antagonistic or deprived environment.


In the main study we looked closely at the process of intimidation in six areas in the Greater Belfast area - Rathcoole - Newtownards, The Bone (Oldpark Road), New Barnsley, Lenadoon - Twinbrook, Castlereagh - Cregagh and Willowfield.

Main Findings
1. Organisations play major roles at all stages of the intimidation process; but it is important to distinguish between different types of organisations. Tenants' Associations have sometimes been responsible for maintaining stability in communities (Twinbrook in 1971, the Springfield estates in 1970 and others). On the other hand, the Provisional IRA has been responsible for intimidating families in Catholic areas like New Barnsley, Andersonstown and Lenadoon; and the UDA, with the 'Junior UDA' or Tartans, has been responsible for many families leaving East Belfast and Rathcoole.
2. The combination of housing shortages in the Catholic parts of Belfast and an influx of intimidated families to those districts has had a number of serious effects. The resulting overcrowding produced inevitable pressure on the borders of these areas - notably in Lenadoon and the 'Ballybone' - and an increase in the likelihood of sectarian conflict. Furthermore, there has been an observable decline in the social, recreational and welfare facilities in many of these areas. 82% of the housing movements resulting from intimidation between May 1 and August 1 1972 were Catholic.
3. There have been demographic changes in some areas resulting from enforced housing movements which are dramatic, but which frequently escape the attention of the public and the Agencies. In The Bone, for example, the population has not greatly altered in number since 1969, but there has been a radical change in the age and income structures of the districts. The social needs of this and other areas have completely altered.
4. Many public housing estates in the Belfast area have become segregated along religious lines, and many others are fast moving in that direction. Segregation has lead to polarization of attitudes and lack of positive contacts with other communities. 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

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 who 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 refused 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 within the community and/or within organisations is a risk. The whole process represent an increase in polarisation, interpreted as 'a socia1 situation in which all the positive bonds are within the groups, and all the negative bonds are between the groups'.


There are significant differences in the patterns of intimidation in other parts of the province to that in Belfast. The main reason for this is the greater availability of suitable housing (ie, houses in 'suitable' areas for intimidated families). Consequently squatting is less prevalent outside Belfast. Those who feel that they wish to move from an estate can often arrange to exchange their house by advertising in the local paper.

Intimidation is not a universal problem. There is very little enforced housing movement in Londonderry or Dungannon, for example. Their main problem has been that of coping with families intimidated from the Belfast area.

Nevertheless there are some towns which have been badly hit by intimidation. These include the Lurgan/Portadown/Craigavon complex and the Larne/Carrickfergus area. In these districts, the situation has been steadily deteriorating.


The effects of intimidation and the resulting housing evacuations on both individuals and communities are perhaps the most underestimated aspects of the problem.

1.Education is a case in point. School populations have fluctuated in some areas. The primary schools in The Bone and the RC primary schools in Willowfield and Greenisland have lost many pupils; other areas, especially in West Belfast, have overcrowded conditions and temporary classrooms.
2. While we do not claim any expertise in psychiatric disturbances, we saw enough evidence during our investigations to indicate that some people have been severely affected by their experience of intimidation. Mental health problems resulting from intimidation and violence are on the increase, and the staff and facilities are overstretched, especially as regards Belfast schools psychiatric services.
3. There has been a marked increase in the number of assisted passages to Australia which more than doubled between 1968 and 1971. Emigration data indicates that the professional skilled and semi-skilled component of the labour force benefits most from opportunities offered abroad.
4. The communities in which people lived were affected in many other ways - community and tenants' associations collapsed, vandalism increased, public services became irregular and unsatisfactory. In many public, housing estates in Belfast people have become interned in the estates at night, and in their homes in the estates at night. This all added up to a disintegration of community life which has been largely recognised.


No one knows exactly how many people are squatting in Northern Ireland. The NI Housing Executive has data on the incidence of squatting in public housing estates, but it is neither complete nor up-to-date. There is no reliable information on the extent of squatting in private housing. Our estimate, based on projections on the available data, is that between 2,500 and 4,500 families were squatting in public housing in February 1973. The figure released by NI Housing Executive in February 1973 was 3,300. The first destination of intimidated families is often the home of a relative or, in circumstances like those prevailing in August 1971, in church halls, hostels or schools. From there the family attempts to find a house. Available empty houses have long since been occupied by squatters in the major reception districts of Belfast, and desperate families have occupied incompleted houses, often without gas, electricity, water or roofs.

There is no doubt that some families which have not been intimidated have been taking advantage of the general situation by moving into more attractive accommodation. It is not possible to estimate what percentage of squatters are opportunists.

In some areas, housing allocation has fallen into the hands of unofficial groups. The UDA and Provisional IRA in particular, and more ad hoc combinations, install families of their choice and often charge them for the right to squat. While this sometimes take place with the acquiescence of the local community, most residents of the affected areas were clearly opposed to such practices.

The main effect of this uncontrolled squatting is that new houses are occupied as soon as, and sometimes before, they are completed. There is thus no possibility of building up a reserve of houses for emergency families, who are often forced to squat.


The research involved an examination of the major agencies involved in coping with the problems of intimidation.

1. Belfast Housing Aid Society: The activities of the BHAS have considerably increased since the Ministry of Development allocated money to the society in 1971. Its working relationship with the Ministry is good.

Working with a dedicated and small staff, composed largely of volunteers, the BHAS has succeeded in adopting a flexible and humane approach to its task and responded to real needs from intimidated families.

2. Local Authorities: Belfast Corporation Welfare Department has carried out an essential transport operation for evacuating the possessions of intimidated families. However, families are still liable for the cost of storage and subsequent removal of the possessions from storage.

The Corporation also operate a Criminal Injuries Claims department which deals with compensation claims for property damaged during riots. Despite numerous expansions of staff, the number of unsettled claims has steadily increased, and some 1969 claims are still outstanding.

3. Local Community Groups: In some estates in Belfast local groups have involved themselves in trying to deal with the problem of intimidation. Some, like the 1970 Springfield Joint Committee and the Twinbrook Tenants' Association, have had a degree of success. The successful groups appear to have two common qualities:-
  • They are always based in the affected communities
  • Their prime raison d'etre is frequently not related to intimidation at all.

4. Ministries: Three ministries in particular - Health & Social Services, Community Relations and Home Affairs - have significant roles in dealing with intimidation. Their functions include the administration of the Temporary Transfer and Resettlement Scheme, Supplementary Benefit claims, the Emergency Relief fund and the Compensation Tribunal. We found that some defects hampered the efficient operation of these schemes.
  • Compartmentalisation: Too many departments are involved in the relief activities related to intimidation, and they operate without sufficient co-operation and liaison.

  • Inflexibility. With some notable exceptions (like the relationship between the Ministry of Development and BHAS) regulations governing which families are eligible for what assistance are rigid, impersonal and sometimes characterised by complicated form-filling.

  • Complexity: The relationship a between different ministries, both administrative and financial, are complicated and incomprehensible to many people.
5. The Royal Ulster Constabulary: The main comment to be made in relation to the RUC is that it is attempting to overcome complex and extensive problems with hopelessly inadequate resources. The results are predictable. They have achieved little in protecting intimidated families, and the record of convictions is very poor. In 1971 only 0.36% of intimidation cases reported to the police resulted in convictions. In the first six months of 1972, the percentage was 0.15. The campaign against intimidation in 1969, however, suggests that conviction records can be improved.

Even considering these problems there are still some RUC stations which have consistently failed to take action when intimidation was reported and have shown little sympathy for the plight of distressed families by their unwillingness to confirm intimidation.

6. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive: It would be surprising if such a large organisation as the NIHE did not have procedural defects. Our investigation revealed a number of these, relating to the Emergency Housing Service:-
a. In the past especially there have been long delays at Housing Executive offices. Furthermore the office interviewers are not adequately trained to deal with the human problems which they meet.
b. It has been difficult on occasions to contact the Emergency Housing Service by telephone. In a controlled experiment lasting a fortnight, the telephone was engaged 14 times out of 20.
c. With the exception of East Belfast the Housing Executive has imposed a proviso that no one still resident in his house can be placed on the Emergency List. This proviso actively encourages a person in distress to manufacture evidence of intimidation, to find temporary accommodation, or to squat. Recognition of intimidation should not be dependent on the evacuation of one's home.
d.The former practice of relying exclusively on the RUC for assessment of intimidation cases was open to abuse and error, and the appointment by the Housing Executive of two visiting officers is not a realistic response to the problem.
The Housing Executive is aware of most of these problems, and has taken steps to remedy some of them. Indeed, of the agencies involved, the Executive has been the most willing to accept constructive criticism. Executive staff, both top management in Belfast and Branch offices elsewhere, has always shown a responsive attitude to suggested changes and improvements. In this context could be quoted the introduction of a home loan scheme which filled in an important gap in social needs and filled it well, taking a lot of pressure from BHAS. The informal withdrawal of the insistance that intimidated families in East Belfast require certificates of intimidation, because of the general intimidatory conditions there, is another case in point.
7. The Public Protection Agency: The PPA's functions are useful but limited. The question is whether the Agency, as presently constituted, should be merged with other existing institutions, or should be strengthened by giving it responsibility to follow up cases more comprehensively, thus performing a case-work role. There are cases for abolishing it, for merging it with other bodies and for strengthening it. There appears to be little point in leaving it as it is.
8. The Army: A number of individuals and community groups faced by intimidation crises have appealed for help directly to Army patrols and Army command. There have been instances where this help has been refused or delayed. Our findings are that these contentions applied to the situation in Rathcoole and also to Willowfield and Cregagh. During the course of our researches into these areas we found evidence of a number of instances where the Army did not protect the property of intimidated families, failed to arrest intimidators, allowed barricades to remain, and came to terms with paramilitary groups in order to avoid a head-on clash. This situation may well have been caused by shortage of numbers or perhaps by changes in policy. It should also be pointed out that these observations apply to the areas specified and in no way imply a general criticism of the reaction of the Army in other districts.
9. General Evaluation of the Agencies: All the agencies involved in dealing with intimidation are seriously lacking in finance and personnel, and most of the criticisms spring from this central fact. Lack of co-ordination, however, also causes serious problems.

One example is the institutional complexity facing intimidated families. These families have considerable difficulty in finding out to which agencies they must go. The compartmentalisation of social needs causes real hardship when, even if the family does succeed in finding the right connection, it discovers that it must contact up to a dozen agencies for its different needs.

Another consequence of lack of co-ordination between the agencies is occasional conflict on policy. An outstanding example of this is their attitudes towards squatting - almost all other agencies are opposed to what they see as the Housing Executive's over-willingness to accept squatters as legitimate tenants. Another example is the use of the police to assess whether intimidation has taken place, which many agencies oppose.

Finally, none of the agencies have the resources, and sometimes the willingness, to carry out action research. This means they rarely assess their own performances, and are unable to react quickly to a dynamic situation.


1. The extent of the intimidation problem in housing is much more extensive than is realised. Between August 1969 and February 1973, conclusive evidence exists that 8000 families in the Greater Belfast area alone were forced to leave their homes as a result of intimidation. This should be regarded as the minimum figure. From various estimates we have established that the total number of refugee families which have come to the attention of the relief agencies involved could be in the region of 15,000. (Nor does this take into account the considerable number of families who have been forced to move and who have not contacted any agency for help.) Based on an average family size of four - the figure suggested by our investigation - these figures comprise 6.6 and 11.8 of the population of the Belfast Urban area. They represent the largest forced population movement in Western Europe since the Second World War.

Outside the Belfast area it is more difficult to estimate the extent of population movement. However, in the Lurgan/Portadown/Craigavon area alone, the evidence indicates that around 750 families have left their homes as a result of intimidatory pressure.

2. There has been a trend towards complete housing segregation in public housing estates in the Greater Belfast area. This trend has shown no signs of abating, with important repercussions as regards polarisation of attitudes.
3. The Agencies involved in dealing with the problems associated with intimidation are not coping adequately, even at the present level of the problem. In the event of a catastrophe similar to those in August 1969 and August 1971, it is likely that there would be a recurrence of the administrative confusion of those periods.
4. Evidence suggests that there is a cyclical pattern to intimidation, which reaches an annual peak in the first week of July (unless abnormal periods like August 1969 and August 1971 introduced a second and higher peak).
5. The intimidation process has a radical effect on the social structure of many Belfast communities, affecting social and educational amenities, demographic structures, welfare requirements and mental health of people, and community development.
6. The extent and effects of the problem are universally underestimated. There is evidence of four important trends which could increase in time.
A. A greater number of intimidation incidents outside the Belfast area - this is already evident in Lurgan/Portadown/Craigavon and Larne/ Carrickfergus, and could spread to other urban centres and to country districts.
B. For the first time privately-owned and occupied houses are being seriously affected - in the Ormeau Road, Antrim Road and Lisburn Road areas for example.
C. There is likely to be an increase of intimidation in one-religion areas - for example, Catholics have been intimidated from New Barnsley and Andersonstown; and Protestants from Rathcoole/Monkstown and Alliance Avenue.
D. Data gathered together since the completion of this Intimidation Report (February 1973) indicates that in the Belfast urban area the problem of intimidation in 1973 is continuing and, if not increasing, becoming more widespread.

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