By Gemma Burns

A respected human rights activist and housing campaigner said this week the Girdwood plans will continue to entrench the North Belfast housing crisis. Inez McCormack, chair of the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) Project said with more than 2400 people on the North Belfast housing list, most of whom are Catholic, the decision to build separate Catholic and Protestant homes on the Girdwood site is a “sectarian carve up”.

The latest housing figures from the Housing Executive show that there are currently 2427 people on the housing waiting list in the North of the city of which 970 are Catholic, 283 are other religions and 779 with religion undisclosed leaving just 395 Protestants on the list,

Despite this, plans for Girdwood show two distinct housing developments one close to the Catholic interface and one close to the Protestant interface.

Inez McCormack sais that despite a £133 million North Belfast Housing Strategy launched in 2000, opportunities for Catholics have worsened. She pointed to the living conditions of Nikita Geer and her family (above) as an example of local people who are being failed by the system.

“The decision Minister McCausland made on Girdwood this week will exacerbate the appalling circumstances this family and many others are forced to live with,” she said. “Decisions like this and the recent decision by the NIHE to create a Belfast city centre waiting list based on 50/50 are evidence of a continued failure to address housing inequality.

“Instead of making decisions based on objective need, which would prioritise this family’s needs, decisions continue to be made which further entrench chronic housing inequalities. These decisions are undermining the promises and commitments secured in law through the Good Friday Agreement.”

The human rights campaigner said any decision on Girdwood housing should have been made on how it can reduce the North Belfast waiting list, not as a way of appeasing one side.

“Any decision on housing in North Belfast has to evidence how it will concretely address the inequality experienced, in this case, by the Catholic community,” she said.

“Attempting to build good relations on the basis of denying the needs, frustrating the rights, and silencing the voices of the poorest is wrong in itself as much as it is destructive to the goal of building a shared future.

“What Nikita and her family, and the thousands like her, need and deserve is a comprehensive North Belfast housing strategy, which can deliver equality. Sectarian carve-ups deny them dignity and hope.”

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