social integration blog reminder

MY first ever blog post was written for Compromise After Conflict. It was about people living together in a shared development.

The first half was about my family history and the second half was the hopes for my families future. I wanted to demonstrate that it’s ok to move on but still keep your memories of the past and the roles your parents and grandparents played in conflict.

At the time, I received feedback from all sorts of people from academics to church elders. Many agreed and thought it was a good idea and others laughed and said I was a day dreamer. “It will never happen in our lifetime. People here are just too sectarian and you need to stop being so naive.”  I was told.

This week, that brutal truth hurt.

Cantrell Close is a typical new build social housing development. The type I live in and one I had dreamed about four years ago.

When you sign up for a new build, you’re told it’s a lifetime home and you’re given a pack telling you what you can and can’t do. You don’t get your keys until you sign a contract promising to be a good neighbour and pay your rent on time or you’re out on your ear.

The inside of a new social home is a blank canvas. It’s an overwhelming feeling walking in holding your childs hand because the day has finally arrived.  You can start giving your offspring some stability in a place to form their roots and commence childhood memories.

They’re called lifetime homes because the doors are widened for wheelchair access, there’s an additional bathroom downstairs and high up sockets are in place for stair lifts and ceiling hoists. What you don’t get with your welcome brochure, is a contract from the local paramilitaries securing your tenancy based on your religion or political beliefs.

Earlier this month, a residents group was forced to apologise for the wording on its Facebook page. It called for new homes to be taken up by people from unionist and loyalist backgrounds. It’s this sort of dangerous mentality that is keeping people from living together in shared developments. They were quick to issue an apology because someone probably reminded them who they’re funded by and on what basis.

When your house is built in an existing estate, the neighbours have you under surveillance. Because you’re a blow in and they don’t trust you because they don’t know anything about you.

I’ve been in my house 10 years and people still ask “you’re not from here, are you?”  This is in what’s classed as a republican area, where I’m supposed to be living among my own tribe. So I can’t imagine how intimidated that girl Jodie felt when the PSNI came to her home and told her she needed to leave because she was under threat.

It annoyed me, hearing the police delivered an unconfirmed threat to people just wanting to get on with their lives and didn’t even bother to protect them afterwards. The police are suspiciously quiet about it and using the ongoing investigation excuse. This was the day after they promised to crack down on paramilitaries.  It wasn’t even twelve hours later and they’re acting as delivery boys for their sinister messages.

They didn’t say who issued the threat and none of the gatekeepers of the community have said to the families No, stay, we will find out who made these threats and we will make sure you’re safe”. Their silence is more telling. What do they get peace money grants for if it’s not working on the ground, facilitating awkward conversations and diffusing sectarian grievances?

It only took the main political party leaders three days to issue a joint statement calling for the threats to be lifted. Three days. This joint statement should have been made within three hours. In the meantime that’s loads of settees being slept on. That’s four brand new houses lying empty. Another four families on the homeless list. And four reasons why I was naive to think we were making progress.