The Blanket

North Belfast: A Resident's View

Joan Totten

The unionist residents of North Belfast now, more than at any time since the early 70’s, strongly believe that there is a nationalist strategy, engineered by Sinn Fein, to drive them out of North Belfast. This has been reinforced by organised street violence in areas such as Tigers Bay, Glenbryn, White City and Westland during the summer months. When we look at coloured “before and after” maps of North Belfast whole areas of land have changed their political colour from being predominantly unionist to being mixed and then to being predominantly nationalist.

For the past 30 years unionist areas have been decimated, and the people have been given no other option but to move out to Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus, Ballyclare and Antrim (one step closer to the boat). Do nationalists really believe that population shifts such as this were completely voluntary and free from pain and trauma? Whereas nationalists refer to this population shift as natural ‘demographic change’ unionists regard it as ‘strategic expulsion’.

The Shankill was one area that was supposed to see major development from 1972, but all it witnessed was demolition and deprivation. People were expecting quality family homes to meet their needs but the statutory bodies did not respond to that need. Families had no other option but to seek quality housing elsewhere. Once development was discussed there were no incentives to bring families back into the area. The Shankill experience was appropriately summed up by one commentator as “The Rape of the Shankill”.

Moyard estate in West Belfast became home to many Unionists who left the Shankill when redevelopment came about - but that was a short stay due to intimidation. Memories of what happened in Moyard and New Barnsley serves to heighten the perception of unionists in North Belfast that the same ‘greening strategy’ is now being used against them.

In North Belfast we are aware of the long waiting lists in nationalist areas to meet housing needs. We are aware too that the waiting lists are not so long in unionist areas. There is a reason for that that annoys unionists as much as nationalists. When unionist areas in North Belfast were being redeveloped the new developments that replaced the old were less than what was expected. For example some 400 fully occupied houses in White City were demolished under the redevelopment scheme, yet less than 200 were rebuilt. No one can argue that prior to the redevelopment of the original 400 houses that 200 of them were void and did not need to be replaced.

The reason there is no large waiting list for houses in unionist areas of North Belfast is simply that quality housing stock does not exist in those areas. How can you have a waiting list for something that does not exist? A new report entitled “Spaces of Fear” which is due to be published in the next few months supports the view that housing in unionist areas of North Belfast is of a lower standard than those located in neighbouring nationalist areas - so the myth that we have better houses can be shelved.

Nationalists claim that the landscape of North Belfast is characterised by huge tracts of waste ground that in any other city in the world would be prime development sites. What they will not acknowledge is that these huge tracts of land are the result of sectarian violence and an inequitable redevelopment policy that sees unionists as being more likely to be expelled from their traditional community as their nationalist counterparts. One friend of mine was born and reared in an area of North Belfast which was mixed but is now totally nationalist. At the height of the troubles people from outside that area, but who claimed to speak for that area, asked them to leave, not verbally, but forcefully. They were intimidated out. I myself was born and reared in North Belfast and contrary to republican thinking the area I lived in was not rooted in raw sectarianism. Most people were too busy getting on with life and making a future for their families. Now we feel like aliens - the great unwanted.

Sectarianism is not a product of just one side of the community and dialogue is still the only viable tool for breaking down barriers - but dialogue also requires listening to the other person’s story. Nationalists need to listen to the story of my community and acknowledge that we have the same problems as them. We have a shared culture of deprivation that includes poverty, bad quality housing, unemployment and suffering. I do not wish to enter into the circle of blame and victim-hood but unionists feel that their story has never been fully told or indeed listened too and we look forward to the days when this will be rectified.






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If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
- Thomas J. Watson, Jr

Index: Current Articles

18 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Unidentified Mob Rule
Aine Fox


The West Belfast Feile
Newton Emerson


The Most Useless, Most Spineless, Most Pointless of Them All
Ciarán Irvine


North Belfast: A Resident's View
Joan Totten


A Tawny Sinew
Anthony McIntyre


Deepest Sympathy


Ahmed Al Kouraini
Sam Bahour


A Personal Voyage of Taboo

Davy Carlin


Reading Connolly
Liam O Ruairc


15 August 2002


Put Spotlight On Republican Aims
Eamonn McCann


No Hierarchies Here!
Anthony McIntyre


Freedom to Dissent

Dorothy Robinson


Freedom of Whose Speech?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


Political Intimidation
Anthony McIntyre


Class War is Over!
Billy Mitchell




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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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