Hearts and Minds: The Girdwood gridlock…

There was a discussion of the Girdwood barracks site on Hearts and Minds last night. It was strangely reminscent of Newton Emerson’s description of the budget process, except in this case it’s not working.

The site is in dispute because both nationalist parties see it as a piece of neutral territory upon which to build houses to hold an overflowing Catholic population in North Belfast. According to the Belfast Media Group (last year):

2147 people are on the North Belfast housing waiting list. 1675 (69 per cent) are Catholic. Of the 1437 people in ‘housing distress’ on the list, 1067 (74 per cent) are Catholic.

Unionist argue however that neighbouring districts like Tigers Bay have been allowed to fall into disrepair, and that the need to better elderly care falls as heavily on Protestant communities as Catholic ones.

The DUP wanted to maintain it as a neutral site, insisting that it be prioritied for business development. And judging by Fred Cobain’s mien last night, the UUP just seem to be embarrassed by the whole thing.

The original consultation document also mentions facilities being hosted on the site for the Mater Hospital and St Malachy’s College. The more recent report underlines the need for the plan to address matters other than housing:

The site must be developed in a way that will attract businesses, investment and visitors into the area to create wealth and jobs.  Hence the project should prioritise issues such as increased employment, tourism, health provision and the potential for improved educational facilities and accessibility to crèche facilities.

Creating wealth and jobs is a DUP priority. However all attempts to get any substantial employers, even provisionally, to come to this site have failed miserably.

So the upshot of the whole thing is that, despite claims by Alban Maguinness to the contrary, the matter being cross cutting across Social Development, Health, Regional Development, DETI and OFMdFM is now stuck with the Exective and the Minister now seems powerless to act.

As Gerry Kelly and Ian Crozier pointed out on the programme last night, last year the SDLP tried to claim they were about to move on this issue when Margaret Ritchie was the Minister:

At the weekend Margaret Ritchie announced 200 social houses on Girdwood would start immediately, despite no agreement amongst nationalists and unionists on housing for the site to date. Plans to build 300 private houses, aimed at the affordable housing market also on the site however have not been greenlighted by the minister.

Needless to say, those houses have not yet been built. And it is unlikely that the 220 houses announced by Alex Attwood will ever get built there unless and until there is some form of agreement between all parties holding the relevant portfolios.

Welcome to the pre-electoral season…

  • Zig70

    Easy, 50,50 housing… groan. Just need to hold back enough money to finish the job when half are burnt out. Maybe make them posh apartments and we can get the lot burnt out without any sectarianism. Pity the housing crisis put paid to that idea.

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed. Those need figures are pretty large when you compare to the relatively small contribution these houses would make to filling them.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Let’s actually look at what UUP MLA Fred Cobain had to say on the matter.

    He said he would be “appalled” if the 200 houses were built in the next 18 months.

    He also appeared extremely uncomfortable with the inconvenient facts regarding the worsening crisis affecting housing provision in north Belfast, which Housing Executive figures suggest will leave 95% of the 1300 plus families on the list as catholic by next year.

    At one stage, when corrected by Noel Thompson regarding the figures, Cobain pathetically commented that “we need to get away from all these figures.”


    This from a party that was selling itself as open to catholic votes only last year.

    The DUP MLA, Ian Crozier, also made the following menacing statement:
    “There will be no Executive approval…So let’s see how long it takes before there’s any houses on the site.”

    The man is actually boasting about his party’s purported ability to block houses from being built which may be rented to catholics. Incredible.

    This isn’t a gridlock, Mick, and let’s not pretend otherwise.

    The SDLP and Sinn Fein have a good record of working on behalf of almost exclusively loyalist working class people in parts of Belfast like the Village, so this shouldn’t be sold as a plague on all your houses smear.

    It’s good ol’ fashioned sectarianism, with Girdwood replacing Twinbrook in this case.

    Fair play to Attwood and I hope he proceeds with the plan.

    Girdwood is also a challenge to Sinn Fein, whose Executive veto to date could have been utilised much more effectively to deliver for working class like this one if issues close to the heart of Peter Robinson were threatened in a similar manner.

    Furthermore, the cynical manner in which the shared future vocabulary has been utilised by unionists in a pretty transparent attempt to conceal sectarian motivations once again highlights the fault lines between those seeking to deal with issues on the basis of equality as defined by objective need and those seeking to elevate good relations as a subjective gauge to determine actions.

  • The whole issue of the Girdwood site and the possibility of social housing for the North Belfast populace is that the Catholic/Nationalist and Republican community in the area are in the greatest need of housing units…..

    Sadly, Unionists know this but have drew an Orange line around their areas to ensure that Nationalists don’t encroch upon their areas….

    What is required is that Unionist Politicans need to tell their communities that Nationalists have a basic human right to access decent housing and as such they would de-secterianise the whole issue…..

    The democraphics of North Belfast have changed dramatically in recent years and will continue to do so. A little bit of reality for those bigots who refuse to recognise that EVERYONE and not just Unionists have a right to proper housing!

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    Is it not up to the ‘host community’ as to what happens? Is that not the North Belfast way? If the ‘outsiders’ agree with whatever decision is made then all goes well. If not: mayhem on the streets.

    North Belfast is delineated by both ‘orange’ and ‘green’ lines. Why would social need or peaceful coexistence ever allow those lines to be breached?

  • Mick Fealty


    Don’t disagree with much of that. Two things. Look at the numbers in housing need. The look at what drop in the ocean this is in comparison with the size of the problem.

    If housing need splits 75/25 in North, what’s the problem with charting a common strategy for tackling need constituency wide?

    I ask not actually knowing the detailed answer, so please don’t treat the question as rhetorical.

  • redhugh78

    Proof if needed that if ever unionists were left to the reigns of power again they wouldn’t have a fenian about the place.

  • Chris Donnelly


    There is nobody from within nationalism opposing housing problems faced by people from a unionist background being addressed so the argument doesn’t stand up.

    This isn’t about some people arguing for a shared housing future against others wanting segregated housing. The real figures, which caused Cobain such discomfort, show that there will be an overwhelming majority (95/5 by the way in terms of catholics/ protestants) of those of a catholic background by next year still waiting to be housed.

    Meanwhile, a local MLA boasts of his party’s ability to block houses from being built in his own constituency.

  • Mick Fealty

    So Noel said. I was just going on the BMG figures.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Updated figures from Housing Executive contained in this article from 8 March 2011


  • lamhdearg

    As someone who had to move Home twice to accomadate the growing irish nationalist pop of North/West Belfast, and in the belief that it would become 100% nationalist my veiw that Girdwood should be turned into housing may go aganist the grain, but the need is there and need overides other considerations. afordable private housing is the best option for Girdwood as more people are inclined to not engage ( or allow there children to engage) in activeates that will decrease the value of their home’s, i know the need is there for social housing but if people from the area who are in social housing at the moment take up these new private homes their current homes would become available. there is also the problem of excess anyone who knows the area knows that the cliftonville and antrim roads are close to grid lock at certain times of the day and cliftonpark avenue and crumlin roads would be almost certain flashpoints. To critasise unionist objection’s to the housing is a little pot calling pan, when you consider irish nationalist objection’s ( alex attwood for one)to the sommerdale site….. Please dont correct my spelling on this. its sat morning and i just can not be arsed.

  • lamhdearg

    chris, “Meanwhile, a local MLA boasts of his party’s ability to block houses from being built in his own constituency.”

    glass houses, alex-somerdale

  • “Welcome to the pre-electoral season…”

    Mick, people need homes but political parties need votes. When the parties return to Stormont the new Ministers will set about building their fiefdoms, with or without the co-operation of their Permanent Secretaries.

    I should imagine that Attwood’s announcement was designed not just to shore-up the SDLP decline in North Belfast but to give the constituency’s Green camp a boost. Going by the last two Westminster elections the SF/SDLP share has gone from 43.7% to 46.3% whereas the DUP/UUP one has gone from 52.5% to 47.7%. This announcement could swing it for the Nationalist family.

    Perhaps Fred Cobain’s hang-dog demeanour has a number of ingredients. He was on the wrong end of the UCUNF thingy; he’s failed to land a blow on the chin of a liability Minister; and, at 7.7%, the UUP could well lose its only seat.

    Could the announcement also be a distraction from the SDLP minister’s other local DSD ‘difficulties’: the Nelson Street Big Picture and the Royal Exchange projects? SF has aimed its fire at both of these.

  • Nevin it truely is pre-election season chara…

    However, it also proves the sad reality just how secterianised the whole Stormont Assembley is! After all, if we had an All-Ireland Assembley legislating for decent housing for those most in need – At least they couldn’t be accussed of being secterian or indeed racist!

    The past and present partitioned Assembley is wrong and morally bankrupt and as such should be closed-down! Peace without social and/or economic justice is equally as bankrupt!

  • AER, I probably don’t need to point out that the Dáil hasn’t exactly been a roaring success either. When I looked at the shenanigans going on there in relation to matters such as property development I wondered if something similar could be going on here. So I started looking around the Kingdom of Moyle. And guess what I found … More recently some SF councillors invited me to do a blog. I agreed on the grounds that they would name the developer. I’m still waiting.

    I’ve also noted that a Dáil civil servant played a part in the potential switch from public to private housing in Nelson Street in North Belfast. Any thoughts on how that little debacle may influence voters?

  • This extends well beyond issues of social housing and affects the countryside. In my experience certain local councils have DUP block voting on planning proposals under PPS21 which appear to be decided on the perceived applicants religion. An applicant with strong DUP connections seems to also be able to “pull” on these contacts to get favour through Councillor support for blatently insupportable applications that impact dramatically on neighbours property while perfectly acceptable proposals are blocked where the applicant has an “Irish” name.