Time for mixed housing estates

Irish News Editorial – 23/06/08

The debate over housing in Northern Ireland has changed beyond recog-nition since the injustices which forced Austin Currie and others into a dramatic intervention 40 years ago this week.

Back in 1968 many unionist-controlled district councils were able to routinely discriminate against Catholics during the allocation of public authority homes.

The turning point came when 14 out of 15 newly built houses in a development in the mixed village of Caledon, Co Tyrone, were handed over to Protestants.

In the most ludicrous single case a 19-year-old single Protestant woman was given a three-bedroomed home ahead of entire Catholic families on the official waiting list.

Mr Currie, who was then a Nationalist MP at Stormont, joined two other campaigners in an occupation of the house at Kinnegard Park and created international headlines when they were unceremoniously evicted.

The issue was at the heart of the civil rights movement of the era and eventually led to wide-ranging reforms which est-ablished the Housing Executive and ensured that new homes were allocated on a fair and accountable basis.

Tragically, and without any justification, wider tensions resulted in the appalling violence of the Troubles which lasted almost 30 years and claimed thousands of lives in all sections of the community.

However, after the enormous progress of recent years and establishment of a power-sharing executive, social development minister Margaret Ritchie was entitled at the weekend to highlight a different aspect of the housing debate.

Most Housing Executive estates are still divided along religious lines, with com-paratively few shared neighbourhoods.

If an increasing number of Catholics and Protestants can agree to live together we will have a mature, forward-looking society.

This is an objective which will provide us all with major challenges, particularly in urban areas, and will undoubtedly be a long-term project but it is one which we have a basic responsibility to pursue.

It is now up to the international community in general, and neighbouring South Africa in particular, to insist that the rule of law and the basic principles of democracy are maintained in Zimbabwe.

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