North Belfast: Where Are We At?

5 May 2001

Community Dialogue North Belfast

Introduction
North Belfast has borne the brunt of the conflict over the past 30 years. Over 25% of murders between 1970 and 1994 have been within a mile of Cliftonville Road. All our communities are suffering through loss of loved ones, injuries, unemployment, segregation, sectarian violence, shortage of housing, bad quality housing, early death as a result of poverty, and a host of other factors, all of which are wrecking us.

This leaflet came from a series of meetings between North Belfast community workers/volunteers. We outline what we see as some of our key issues and raise questions about them. But are these the real issues? Are these the best questions? What can we do about them? Only you can answer these questions. So this leaflet is addressed to YOU.

1. Housing

Some Unionist perceptions
  • 'We're shrinking, they're growing. As the number of Catholics grow in North Belfast, Protestants move out. Some Protestant estates have lost as much as 200 homes in the last 20 years'.
  • 'We're under siege – and losing'.
  • 'If you let one Catholic in a flood follows'.
  • 'There's a hidden agenda to “green” the whole of North Belfast'.

Some Nationalist perceptions

  • 'Catholics need houses. Our numbers are growing'.
  • 'Once Catholics start moving into a Protestant area they get attacked and have to move out. It's ethnic cleansing'.
  • 'Protestant estates are still the same geographical size. They've just got better houses with more open space, while we're crammed into the same small space with more people. So why are they complaining?'
  • 'Our right to housing is being made secondary to the Protestant desire for segregation'.

Questions

  • Do we want more houses, or more space for kids to play in?
  • If more people owned their home would less people move out?
  • Do we want to live in segregated areas for ever?
2. Security and safety - shared perceptions
  • 'Fear is everywhere in North Belfast. Parades, protests and feuds all raise the temperature'.
  • 'Social violence such as drugs, killings, injuries from stolen cars, and attacks on the elderly have got worse since the ceasefires. Some areas are out of control'.

Paramilitaries:

  • 'They're fighting turf wars and they're the main drug dealers';
  • 'They're right to act against drug pushers – they only act in response to community pressure';
  • 'At least they're from our community, not like the police, and there's times we need them'.
  • 'Paramilitaries are accountable to no one'.

Interface Areas

  • 'People in interface areas - and there are least thirty in North Belfast - get it from both sides. And from outsiders who move in to 'defend' them, and then disappear to leave them to bear the brunt of the response'.
  • 'Only those living on the interface know what it's like to be attacked nightly in the summer'.
  • 'We're cooped up inside our few streets all summer'.
  • 'We need more neutral spaces where we can mix safely'.

Young people

 
  • 'Parents were brought up in the Troubles, so sometimes they don't see what young people do as violent; many parents have lost control'
  • 'Some youth crime comes from boredom – they want to get chased by the police. Some of it is sectarian hatred, often based in fear, ignorance or pain. A lot of youth violence is within their own local areas, but it's often the same ones who are involved in sectarian attacks'.
  • 'Young people feel scapegoated by politicians, paramilitaries and the community, and no one is addressing our needs'.

Policing

 
  • 'Lack of agreement about policing makes things worse'.
  • 'We've no choice except to turn to paramilitaries to deal with social crime'.
  • 'Getting new police won't solve the problems. Social problems will still be there, no matter what the police are like'.

Questions

  • Do you feel safe in your own area?
  • Who do you fear most – people in your own community or others?
  • How many of our problems come from within our own community?
3. Ownership
  • Who owns North Belfast?
  • What would we have to do to make each of us feel more secure in our separate territories?
  • How do we define 'our territory'?
  • How can we feel safe and secure within it?
  • How can we deal with interface problems which affect our community unless we can reach agreement with the other community?
  • Can we address any of these issues without serious dialogue within our communities, between them, and with the powers-that-be?
Conclusion
Despite all the suffering in North Belfast this is home to nearly 80,000 people. Good things are beginning to happen and much of this is because more people are in dialogue with each other about how to sort out our real problems.

Dialogue is about listening to someone else's story – finding out who they are. It's learning about their humanity and telling them about ours. It's about facing tough questions that we normally avoid. It may be about finding something in common with them. It doesn't mean being disloyal to our own tradition. It's not about political manipulation. We will continue to disagree about many things, but we may also find much in common.

Who do you need to talk to?