Ard Fheis 2004 - Martin Meehan in support of motions 101 & 103
Given the drastic housing shortages experienced in the six counties, it is essential that a comprehensive and adequately funded programme of social housing development be instituted as a matter of urgency.
Take the opportunity to say some words about housing and homelessness in the North and make some comments about my own constituency.
The main reason for homelessness in the North is conflict in the home which represents over 40% of those who approached the Housing Executive, followed by no accommodation within the North (11%), loss of tied/rented accommodation (11%) and intimidation (9%).
There are huge numbers of people on waiting lists classified as A1 priority or in 'stress'
This is compounded in areas like North Belfast by intimidation and sectarian violence. Intimidation accounts for almost 10% of the figures for those approaching the Housing Executive as homeless. Across the six counties Unionist paramilitaries have been waging a campaign of violence and intimidation particularly in mixed area such as South Antrim and around interface areas such as North Belfast with the very deliberate objective of creating 'no-go' areas for nationalists by forcing them out of their homes.
Nowhere are sectarian inequalities in housing starker than in North Belfast. The figures speak for themselves. In 2002, the housing waiting list for North Belfast contained a staggering 1,748 applications. Of those applications, over 80 per cent were made by Catholics. The figures for those classified as being in housing stress are very similar, with 764 applicants suffering from housing stress being Catholic as opposed to 172 Protestants. In other words, if you are a Catholic in North Belfast, you are four times more likely to be suffering from housing stress than your Protestant counterpart.
This is not to belittle the plight of those Protestants who find themselves without decent housing -- their rights to adequate shelter are no less than anyone else's. It is to say that in relation to this most basic human right, the discrimination that has characterised the northern statelet throughout its existence has not gone away.
The time has long gone when this problem should be sorted out. There is no excuse whatsoever for such inequalities. I want the strong message to go out from this Ard Fheis to the British government and to the Housing Executive that Sinn Féin will not tolerate this discrimination in any form. We demand that adequate funds are provided for the development of social housing, and we demand that that funding is distributed in such a way that inequalities are eradicated.
Let me make this clear, we are not talking about equality of allocation -- that will do little to narrow the gap. We are talking about equality of outcome -- resources need to be allocated in such a way that in the very near future, it will make no difference to your likelihood of suffering housing stress whether you are a Catholic or a Protestant. Indeed, in a western European country in the 21st century, there is no reason at all why anyone should be suffering from housing stress. Sinn Féin pledges itself to do all in its power to ensure that this scourge on human rights becomes a thing of the past, and to expose those who fail to live up to their responsibilities.