N orth Belfast residents at the forefront of a housing equality campaign have hit out at the housing minister after he refused to meet with them at Stormont.
Seven residents and two members of PPR (Participation and the Practice of Rights) travelled to Stormont for a meeting with the minister on Tuesday afternoon, in order to talk about their ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ campaign on housing issues in North Belfast.
However, there was disappointment when the group were told the minister would not meet with residents, only PPR representatives, despite knowing about the residents’ attendance for weeks.
The meeting was cancelled as PPR refused to go ahead without the residents.
A spokesperson for PPR said: “PPR supports residents to assert their rights – we don’t speak on their behalf, and we certainly don’t attend meetings in their absence.
“The minister’s decision not to meet with residents was disrespectful, disappointing and yet another example of the refusal to accept the blatantly obvious – that there is religious inequality in North Belfast housing and it is devastating families.”
According to PPR, the meeting was arranged on May 2, at the minister’s request, and he was informed at an early stage that residents would be attending.
However on Monday afternoon, the day before the meeting, PPR were informed that the minister only wanted to meet with their representatives.
Marisa McMahon, from North Belfast, was one of the seven residents who hoped to speak to the minister about housing inequality and said she was “really disappointed” it didn’t go ahead.
“Considering it was the minister who initiated the meeting, we went on Tuesday thinking he wouldn’t turn us away. We were standing waiting for the meeting, when a secretary came down. We asked her if we could attend the meeting.
“We gave her a pledge which we are asking politicians to sign up to as regards to tackling religious inequality in North Belfast and asked her to give it to him. She went away and came back to say he didn’t want to meet us. She didn’t have the pledge anymore but he’s clearly not for signing it.”
She added: “All we wanted him to do was to sign a pledge vowing to tackle housing inequality. We’ve got support from every party at Stormont, apart from the DUP and TUV.
“He initiated the meeting and all we’re asking is that he sign up to the strategy and recognise that there is a need in North Belfast.
“We just don’t see the point in him turning us away on the steps of Stormont.”
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said Minister McCausland’s refusal to meet with residents was an “unacceptable snub”.
“Independent international housing activists have supported the facts about housing discrimination for the Catholic community in North Belfast and Sinn Fein recently lodged a complaint with the Equality Commission on this issue.
“This snub by the Minister is further evidence of his disregard for public opinion and further calls into question his approach to tackling housing inequality.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development (DSD) said: “The minister invited the PPR organisation to a meeting on Tuesday, June 3, to discuss specifically their report, Equality Can’t Wait, which contains a number of errors and inaccuracies which the minister wished to discuss directly with the authors.
“The minister remains content to take the opportunity to discuss the report with PPR.”