Girdwood and the problem of shared spaces in contested areas…

So that evening, the party walked from the CSI committee:

At Tuesday’s meeting Alliance brought things to a head by presenting a list of eight essential items which they believe should be on any document to promote a shared society. It includes a review of segregated housing, a framework for dealing with illegal flags and emblems and a test of all public spending to ensure it prioritises sharing over separation.

That same night that Spotlight programme put a lighted flame underneath the Girdwood story)…

Then ensued a pincher movement on them from both parties in OFMdFM. The First Minister was scathing:

“No-one can get absolutely everything they want out of a five-party working group trying to find consensus, but we were making good progress on the document.”

The DUP leader continued: “When Alliance thought they may not get everything they demanded, they childishly walked away from the table.”

He added: “Throughout this process there has been political sniping by David Ford, along with no serious attempt by his party to achieve a shared agreement on good relations.

“It would have been more constructive if the Alliance Party had produced any details at all on their claim of £1 billion cost of division when it was requested by the group.

Some of what’s in the BBC programme is fair comment. And Pete has demonstrated that a ‘shared future’ agenda was never on the minds of the two major political shareholders in North Belfast.

Mind you, they do have a point when they say that if you were going to start on a shared housing project, it would probably not be Girdwood. But if and when it gets to fruition, the hub facilities will effectively replace a peace wall.

This is a certainly a political manoeuvre, and by the DUP for sure, by using a funding deadline to force a decision.

And yet, the constituency has been taken off the party’s critical list, and it may even be about to benefit from the three Shankill wards where the depopulation trend of Protestant inner urban areas has not only reversed, its starting to become full.

In fact it is unlikely to make any real difference to the overall fate of the constitutency: one, because most who get houses on either side will likely already be registered to vote in North Belfast; and two the numbers have been reduced to the point of near electoral irrelevance.

In addition the housing on the so called Protestant housing faces out on a Catholic area on the other side of the road from the Girdwood site, so it is likely that over time that may become mixed or even Catholic housing in response to most pressing need.

Both these parties however play a long game. Prior to the Spotlight programme, the DUP was facing some disgruntlement with the local community at the fact of just 70 high density ‘Catholic’ housing units being built at all as a significant humiliation for them.

It may be that in the short term this is now to be seen as a victory for them. But in the longer term – short of a major new development in Glengormley or Crumlin – there is still a chronic housing shortage for Catholics in North Belfast that is simply not going to go away

Update: Here’s Jackie Redpath on the matter:

Girdwood is a unique site, an abandoned army base with huge regeneration potential, in the heart of an area formerly wrecked by sectarian violence. Do we want this potential to be shared by ALL the neighbouring communities? Should it therefore be a shared space? I imagine the unanimous answer is yes!

If so, would building 200 homes for Catholics, and none for Protestants, secure the shared space vision? I think the answer is no! In fact, on the basis of “need” argument, why not follow the ultimate logic and cover the entire site in housing for Catholics – never mind 200, make it 500 houses!! Would that be shared space for a shared future?

And then there’s the issue of lower Oldpark. It’s in a grossly dilapidated state, with the existing community living among brutal dereliction and horrible conditions. Should it be left to rot and continue to decline? The answer must be no! Is there a waiting list for lower Oldpark at present? Again the answer is no. Would you want to live there?

What I think Minister Nelson McCausland is promoting is not only providing housing on the basis of need, but as a catalyst for regeneration. In this scenario “need” is not simply defined as “names on the waiting list” but as the “needs” of people, families and communities for regeneration, renewal and sustainability.


Like it or not, politics are about trade-offs, transactions and hopefully, honourable compromise. Would we prefer a continued “stand -off” at either end of the Girdwood site by the politicians, or have them stand together on the same piece of earth, having “done what must be done” to make progress possible?

They should be congratulated, not pilloried for their “deal” – it is defensible. Perhaps their only mistake was not to defend it publicly!

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty