The Blanket

Particularity or Universality?
Housing Discrimination in North Belfast

Liam O Ruairc • 15/10/2002

Discrimination in housing has been one of the causes of the problems in the North. A report from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive published in October 2000 showed that nationalists made up to three quarters of the 1650 people on North Belfast's housing waiting list. The same report also noted that for the people waiting for urgent housing, 735 were Catholics, while 157 were Protestants. Two years after, 15 nationalist housing groups in North Belfast accused the Housing Executive and the Department of Social Development of neglecting the Catholic community. While £25 million has been allocated for housing in Protestant areas in the last two years, only £3 million has been geared towards tackling the huge number of nationalists on the waiting list. (Irish News, 14 October 2002) One thing that Republicans and Socialists should be weary about is the terms of the debate.

There is an intrinsic danger of rooting the housing debate on concepts like "Catholics" or "the Nationalist community" not getting its fair share of houses or "Protestants" getting too much of it. Arguing like that is reminiscent of the fascistic "Eigen Volk Eerst" ("Our People First") arguments of Flemish nationalists. The logic of communalism reduces the legitimate demands of a discriminated group to particularism and sectional interest. Housing demands should be formulated in the language of civil rights, not from particular sectional interest, like "the Catholic community".

From a civic and Republican perspective, the right to a home is universal. People in North Belfast are entitled to a home not because they are "Catholics" or "Nationalists" but because they are in need of housing. Republican Socialists warned that the so-called Good Friday Agreement would institutionalise the fragmentation and balkanisation of the Irish people into Catholic and Protestant "tribes". The consequence for the housing question is an increase of sectarian tensions: there is a zero-sum logic at work, a house for a Catholic is a house less for a Protestant or the other way around.

This is a regression from Wolfe Tone. Republicanism is about substituting for Catholic and Protestant particularisms the universality of the common denominator of Irish citizenship, and argues that citizens have a right to a home and live free of discrimination. Those who have abandoned the Republican position for that of Catholic communalism have therefore lost any pretension to universality.

The task lying ahead is to shift the ground of the debate from particularity to universality. A genuine commitment to universality also clashes with the present socio-economic organisation of our society. Particular class interests condemns the working class to a shortage of housing while luxury apartments are being built all over the place. Everybody, not just the rich, have a right to a home. That is what genuine universality is about.








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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

24 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Stand Up And Be Counted
Mickey Donnelly


Read It And Weep

Mick Hall


Particularity Or Universality?
Liam O Ruairc


Time Has Run Out For An Armed IRA
Anthony McIntyre


Thoughts On The Coming War
Sean O Torain


The Letters Page has been updated.


20 October 2002


Dancing on the Graves of Ten Men Dead
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The Wily Ways of a Boy From Ballymurphy

Barry White


SF's Ruse Coloured Glasses
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Historic Shirts of the World
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Liam O Ruairc


From Belfast To Genoa - Now Florence
Davy Carlin


An Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee
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The Letters Page has been updated.




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