A Lesson in Sectarian scare-mongering

To North Belfast, where the proposal to transform an old Mill complex into an apartment block has rallied all strands of loyalism and unionism in opposition to new housing for the densely populated catholic Ardoyne area.

The pretence for the opposition is that the new apartments will remove the buffer zone which currently separates nationalist and unionist areas in the region (not actually correct, as the illustration contained in the article clearly indicates that a Commercial Development buffer is planned for, and there will remain two security gates, with access to the proposed apartment complex through these gates.)

Opposition to the re-location of the businesses in the Mill to the front of the Crumlin Road (the aforementioned Commercial buffer)would appear to be on the grounds that this would facilitate republicans intent on attacking protestant homes in Woodvale. (Indeed, while the article makes reference to attacks on protestant homes in the area, it omits to mention similar attacks on catholic homes in the area.)

Yet Dunnes Stores- as well as the nearby petrol station- would regularly be used by people from both communities. The objection to the relocation of a public house to the front of the road is something that clearly would require more careful consideration, but the sentiments expressed at the meeting reveal a deeper objection to this proposal.

It also has to be said that this would not be the only area of north Belfast in which a commercial buffer existed between the two communities- just down the road at Carlisle Circus, a similar buffer maintains the peace between the Shankill and New Lodge areas.

It is only natural that residents living along any of Belfast’s interface areas would feel particularly anxious about any proposed changes to the landscape around them, and their voices deserve to be heard if only because, in both communities, these are the people still living with the reality of base sectarianism in this city.

However, whatever outcome awaits this particular application, the frightening aspect to this episode is the assumption behind a number of prominent speakers’ comments that this is all part of a devious plan by Romanists to ‘expand their area’ at the expense of unionists. As an exercise in sectarian scare-mongering, it may prove useful but factually, of course, they are simply wrong.

Nationalist areas in north Belfast have long waiting lists for housing, but that would not seem to be being addressed by this development, which is private and therefore more likely to attract middle-class buyers (something Sinn Fein’s Margaret McClenaghan pointed out in an Irish News article on the issue Wednesday.) Of course, the development will have the knock-on effect of relieving some of the pressure for housing in nationalist north Belfast, albeit in the private residential market.

Here are some of the quotes from a public rally in the loyalist Woodvale area on the matter, carried in the Shankill Mirror: “Eric Cairns is a very upmarket housing agent and it may well be that they are targeting Roman Catholic ‘Yuppie’ types. All Nationalist areas are trying to bring back professionals in a bid to develop and expand their communities, basically this is part of a longer term programme building up and expanding Ardoyne.” [Cllr. Nelson McCausland.]

Billy Patterson, Greater Shankill Community Council: “For years Protestants have stood idly by and let Nationalists develop their areas, but if they put up a reasonable and logical fight and make things clear and concise there is no reason why this cannot be stopped.”

“Ardoyne are basically looking to expand in every direction, and another scandal is that the land at Hillview, which was meant to be for commercial use only, has also been sold off so is now out of the control of government.” [Cllr Nelson McCausland again.]

“We have to hit back at this very disturbing proposal and stand side by side and fight this side by side.” [Cllr Frank McCoubrey]

So is the objection simply to this particular housing proposal? Or is it to the re-location of the business units? Or is it, as insinuated by some of the comments, more about attempting to frustrate efforts to address the serious problem of inadequate housing provision in nationalist areas of north Belfast?