Soapbox: Housing Then and Now – Conference on 15 June in Dungannon, 50 years on from Caledon sit-in

Tony Kennedy is a member of the committee established to recognise the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement. He worked for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive from 1972 to 1983, was chief housing officer of Wakefield MDC from 1983 to 1992 and then chief executive of Co-operation Ireland until his retirement in 2008.

One of the core demands of the Civil Rights Association was an impartial system for the allocation of all public sector housing. Although the Northern Ireland Housing Trust had a good reputation, where misallocation occurred – as in Dungannon Urban District Council – it was crude and blatant.

As a result, The Campaign for Social Justice established in Dungannon in 1964 prefigured the Civil Rights Association and highlighted concerns about housing allocations. The Northern Ireland Labour Party in the mid-1960s had also called for new and impartial procedures for the allocation of public housing.

In reaction to the allocation by Dungannon UDC of a house to a single protestant woman with less housing need than many catholic families on the waiting list, Austin Currie MP squatted in a house in Caledon on 20 June 1968. This led to the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon in August 1968.

As a result of these and other actions, by 22 November 1968 the Stormont government announced its intention to introduce a fairer system for the allocation of council houses. Subsequently it was to remove housing powers from councils and form the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

These historic events will be recognised at a housing conference taking place at The Junction, Dungannon on Friday 15 June, almost 50 years to the day from Austin Currie’s action, as part of the commemoration events for the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

As well as hearing from Austin Currie, the all day conference will consider the history of housing in Northern Ireland and consider issues relating to housing conditions and allocations in the seventies and since. It will then consider one of the greatest challenges facing present day housing providers – how to provide social housing which is not divided on religious grounds. Current housing students will present their ideas and hear comments from leading practitioners and commentators in the field.

Speakers will include:

  • Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor in Belfast School of Architecture and the Built Environment at Ulster University;
  • Joe Frey, former head of Research at the NI Housing Executive;
  • Austin Currie retired politician and civil rights leader;
  • Nicola McCrudden, director of Chartered Institute of Housing;
  • Eileen Patterson, director of communities with Radius Housing;
  • Ted Cantell, founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion following his review of the race riots in the north of England in 2001;
  • Duncan Morrow, academic, political activist and former chief executive of the Community Relations Council;
  • Richard Mealey, co-ordinator of the Housing Associations Integration Project, funded by the Peace IV programme.

The free event will be of interest to anyone interested in housing or current affairs and places can be booked online.

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