'Drawing Back from the Edge: Community Based Response to Violence in North Belfast', by Neil Jarman (1999)
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The following extracts have been contributed by permission of the author Neil Jarman. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Drawing Back From the Edge:
These extracts are copyright Neil Jarman (1999) and are included
on the CAIN site by permission of the author and publishers. You may not edit, adapt,
or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use
without the express written permission of the author, and the publishers, Community Development Centre, Nort Belfast. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.
There have been many significant and often dramatic developments in the political arena over the past few years. The political peace process has had its ups and downs and as we struggle to deal with the many contentious and difficult decisions to be made, the fact that there continues to be a political process presents us with our best opportunity to date.
The political process by itself cannot however guarantee us "peace". Peace building can only come about through a more organic and dynamic process, which involves the active participation of civil society. Community Development is critical to this process. Many organisations both across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have been involved in a peace building process for several decades. This process has undoubtedly been hampered by political instability and by the use of violence. When violence is used as a means of problem solving it is particularly difficult for community activists to engage in constructive dialogue and development.
Despite North Belfast’s bloody history many community activists in the area were greatly shocked by the scale and levels of violence witnessed in 1996. The physical destruction accompanied by the sheer trauma experienced by those caught up in violent situations (which included 110 families leaving their homes) left many communities and community activists feeling disempowered. As stated earlier, when violence is used either to bully to intimidate or to protect, it appears that nothing can be done. Or can it?
Our experience in North Belfast is that violence at community level can erupt for a complex variety of reasons. In 1997 CDC published "On The Edge" which reported the findings of a community led inquiry into civil disturbance in 1996. The report concluded that it was extremely difficult for community activists to influence those using violence for their own political ends. There were numerous examples where violence flared for a combination of reasons including: rumour, perceptions, media hype, activities of young people, policing methods, lack of communication.
In this report we will attempt to share with others some of the conflict reduction models used to address these issues. We appreciate that much of this work has been possible hecause of the existence of an inclusive peace process. But also it is important for those engaged in the political process to recognise and validate the work engaged in at the local level by ordinary women and men who have been prepared to take substantial risks to underpin and embed the peace process within local communities. For such action to be taken in an area where people have eamed the right to mistrust their neighbours due to the intensity of political murders and the increasing number of interface areas, is a remarkable achievement which undoubtedly can he replicated in areas with similar difficulties.
This report is dedicated to all those involved in the Protestant and Catholic Interface Networks and particularly the members of the mobile phone networks.
The summer of 1996 witnessed the most extensive public disorder in Northern Ireland since the early years of the Troubles. Some of the worst violence took place in North Belfast. Tension began to rise in the weeks preceding the Tour of the North parade in June, but the violence only erupted after the Drumcree church parade was prevented from proceeding along the Garvaghy Road in Portadown in early July.
During the stand-off there were regular street protests, extensive acts of rioting, arson and vandalism, numerous conflicts with the police and widespread sectarian clashes at the many interfaces across North Belfast. Although the worst of the violence stopped after the Twelfth of July, sporadic clashes occurred through the rest of the summer and through into the autumn and winter. Many of these incidents were documented in On the Edge, a report published by CDC in June 1997.
Throughout Drumcree week there were also numerous cases of more personalised threats and intimidation, which resulted in one hundred and ten officially recognised displaced households in North Belfast alone. Private tenants, Housing Executive tenants and owner-occupiers alike were forced to abandon their homes and seek re-housing. Many of these people spent months in temporary accommodation before they could begin to rebuild their lives.
As a result of the disturbances a number of streets and areas which had become more mixed in the two years since the first IRA cease-fire had been called reverted to a single identity status. In other areas long-standing members of the minority community felt increasingly fearful and vulnerable. A large section of Clifton Park Avenue was left derelict. A new interface harrier was built between Mountcollyer and Parkside. New gates were installed on Halliday’s Road to further enclose Tiger’s Bay.
Many of the inter-community contacts and tentative attempts at dialogue that had been nurtured in the preceding two years came to an end as the two communities withdrew into themselves and sought to understand and rationalise what had happened. Both sides claimed that the other community was responsible for much of the violence and intimidation. Both communities were critical of role of the police, accusing them of exacerbating the situation in many cases. Both communities were also critical of the work of the statutory bodies who were responsible for providing emergency assistance. They claimed that they often failed to respond adequately or rapidly enough, thus exacerbating the problems that people faced.
One of the major problems that On the Edge highlighted was the difficulty in maintaining lines of communication during such periods of public disorder. The report noted that:
These breakdowns in communication helped perpetuate fear, suspicion, mistrust and violence. People in many areas felt increasingly isolated and were uncertain about what was going on in other parts of the city. As rumours spread readily of attacks in other areas, of threats of attack and of people being burnt out of their homes, more people came on to the streets to prepare for the worst. This in turn fuelled rumour and fear on the other side and so helped the cycle to continue.
The problems in maintaining a good network of communication within communities, between communities, with the police and with the statutory agencies was seen as an important contributory factor in the scale of the trouble that was experienced during 1996.
This report looks at some of the work initiated by the Community Development Centre, and in particular at ways empowering community activists and workers to deal with problems at interface areas at times of heightened tensions during the marching season. It describes in some detail how a network of community activists across North Belfast have utilised mobile telephones to enable communities to maintain contacts with other areas, across interfaces and with the police and other statutory agencies during the past two summers of 1997 and 1998 following the severe sectarian violence in 1996. It describes how the network has been able to address a range of rumours, fears and emergent acts of violence and evaluates the benefits and the problems with the project.
The discussion which follows about the ways in which community activists sought to reduce tension and conflict during the 1998 marching season is largely based on a series of interviews with those involved in the mobile phone network. Detailed interviews were held with fourteen of the nineteen phone holders between 8 July and 5 August. These were equally balanced with seven phone holders from the Protestant community and seven from the Catholic community. A number of attempts were made to arrange interviews with the remaining five phone holders but this eventually proved impossible to achieve.
Besides the fourteen phone holders, interviews were also held with members of the RUC at Antrim Road, North Queen Street, Greencastle and Tennent Street stations, and with members of staff at Making Belfast Work and Belfast Interface Project, with local politicians, with community activists who were not phone holders and with CDC staff. Information was also supplied by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The Community Development Centre was set up in 1974. Since that time it has worked with and supported community groups and projects, provided advice and information, developed educational schemes and training programmes, and supported festivals and other cultural projects across North Belfast from Crumlin Road to Greencastle and from Ballysillan and Ligoniel to the Shore Road.
CDC staff took a prominent role in co-ordinating and assisting the community response to the violence of 1996 and also actively liased with statutory agencies during the turmoil of the summer. The centre’s work with the diverse communities of North Belfast was facilitated by the two interface networks, which had been set up in 1995. The two networks drew on a range of community groups based in interface areas across North Belfast, the aim being to improve and co-ordinate contacts and communication within each main community and to facilitate joint initiatives. The networks therefore provided a space and an opportunity for representatives of the fragmented communities to meet and explore common problems, for CDC to provide support for local activists and to build frameworks and structures that would aid cross-community dialogue.
As part of their wider remit CDC had also organised a Community Inquiry into the violence during the winter of 1996-1997 and published the On the Edge report that resulted from the inquiry. But the centre also sought to encourage new ideas and thinking among both the community sector and statutory agencies with the aim of reducing the scale of future inter-communal tension and violence and ensuring more effective co-ordination and co-operation between different groups and agencies.
CDC’s wider community development work has also been extended with the establishment of the Community Bridges programme in 1997. The project, which has four full-time staff, is dedicated to encouraging and supporting local community groups and projects and facilitating both single identity and cross-community debate and dialogue throughout the year. The members of the project work with a diverse range of community groups on the often unique problems that are experienced in interface areas.
The violence and widespread disturbances of 1996 had a number of longer-term affects on the working class communities of North Belfast. The area became even more segregated and because so many families had been displaced, interface areas on the periphery, which had started to become ‘mixed’, reverted to single identity communities.
Furthermore, the violence had a significant impact on relationships within and between communities. The opportunity for cross-community contact was almost impossible. Fear, mistrust, anger and hurt were felt across all aspects of community activity. Although this lessened slightly as the months progressed it was clear that another summer of violence would possibly permanently damage these relationships and severely restrict opportunities for dialogue. The Community Bridges team became aware that no agency appeared to be considering strategies that could support the abilities of local communities to reduce tension and engage in conflict resolution work.
Through work with community groups in the interface areas CDC was aware that many community activists and political leaders had been involved in conflict resolution work and many personal risks had been taken in working in interface areas over a number of years. However much of this work went unrecognised and unsupported.
It was also recognised that in areas where community infrastructure was low, one of two things happened. Most members of the community who were willing to work to reduce tensions felt powerless to have any impact as violent events unfolded because they had no structure through which to work. Although in some areas a strong personality did manage to set up temporary lines of communication which could impact on the situation in some way, these tended to only last for the time of crisis.
CDC recognised that while in most communities there was a willingness to become involved in forms of conflict resolution a variety of ways had to be found to provide structures and support networks for this to be encouraged.
Staff at the Centre put forward two practical suggestions for addressing the problems of the tensions of the marching season. One was that a number of mobile phones should be provided for community activists to ensure lines of communication remained open within and between communities even at the most difficult of times. The mobile phones network was first attempted in 1997 and a more extensive network was organised during the summer of 1998. The remainder of this report discusses how this network was organised and run, how effective it was in maintaining lines of communication during times of public disorder and what improvements could be made for similar future projects.
The second suggestion was aimed at addressing the problems that sustained periods of heightened tension had on children and young people in interface areas. It was recognised that during the summer period young people can contribute to tensions on the interface particularly when their only form of engagement is through ‘recreational rioting’. CDC made plans to devise a programme of sustained development work, which would run throughout the year. However the Centre was also aware of the possibilities of utilising money available through the Belfast Education and Library Board to construct a programme of activities for children and young people in structured activities during key times and in vulnerable areas. It was envisaged that some of these activities would involve taking the children and young people away from volatile areas when tension was at its highest.
The Interagency Working Group agreed with CDC’s suggestion that an approach should be pursued with BELB in an effort to engage young people in more constructive activities. The response from the divisional youth officer was positive and CDC together with other organisations agreed to act as a point of contact and as distribution centre for the grant scheme. This project has been supported by both BELB and the Community Relations Council and over £25,000 has been given in grants to community groups in interface areas over the past two years. Whilst the sums of money available were quite small they have represented a significant development in terms of meeting the needs of young people in interface areas.
Throughout the summer of 1996 the community sector played a pivotal role in the development of localised strategies to deal with potential and actual civil unrest and tension within North Belfast. Community activists and organisations helped liase with and between interface areas liased with various statutory agencies, maintained contacts with the police and took considerable responsibility for those who were made homeless.
The communal violence was of a scale that had not been experienced since the early I 980s. It is estimated that the financial cost of the damage was in the region of £10 million and one hundred and ten families were officially recognised as ‘displaced’ in the North Belfast area. CDC’s report On the Edge documented many of the incidents which occurred across the area and also highlighted various difficulties experienced by community activists and the displaced families themselves. Some of these difficulties revolved around the lack of operational procedures in place to deal with the situations.
In an attempt to address these difficulties a working group, known as the Interagency Working Group on Displaced Families was established specifically as a means of co-ordinating operational arrangements amongst the appropriate statutory agencies in Belfast. The initial members of the group were North & West Belfast Health & Social Services Trust, South & East Belfast Health & Social Services Trust, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Making Belfast Work and the RUC. The group was subsequently expanded to include the Social Security Agency, Belfast City Council, Belfast Education and Library Board, NIO Civil Representation, the Community Development Centre and more recently the Belfast Interface Project.
CDC welcomed the establishment of this forum and acknowledges the very serious commitment made to it by all the participating agencies and personnel through the Interagency Group. Working collaboratively has enabled CDC to build important strategic alliances particularly with those agencies, such as NIHE, RUC, and the NIO Civil Representatives, which have a key role in times of civil disturbance.
The various statutory bodies participating in the Interagency Group produced a comprehensive manual outlining responsibilities and procedural matters covering a range of needs and problems including temporary re-housing, housing storage, emergency payments and childcare. This information about the new procedures was then relayed to local community activists by CDC through briefing sessions of the various networks.
The availability of the contingency plans together with the appropriate network of contacts was a significant achievement and has undoubtedly enhanced the effectiveness of the working arrangements and communication between the community and statutory sectors. It has also been of major benefit to families and communities caught up in crisis situations.
One of the major problems for displaced families in 1996 was the absence of any fund to cater for the additional costs of having to stay in hotel accommodation. This was resolved after CDC made direct representation to the Secretary of State. At their request the Secretary of State agreed that a portion of MBW’s budget should be set aside to cover such costs. The money was distributed to families via the Health & Social Services Trusts local offices. This fund was initially only available in Belfast.
The Interagency Group also enabled the procedure for emergency payments to be clarified and improved. Payments were available across Northern Ireland this summer. In addition to emergency payments a DHSS circular has provided valuable clarification on arrangements available under the Social Fund. These are significant developments and whilst we would hope that the circumstances do not occur which result in the need for such payments it is reassuring to know that the system has been put in place. These actions further highlight the strategic benefits of interagency co-operation.
As part of this wide-ranging review of the existing procedures for dealing with the effects of widescale public disorder it was clear that finding ways of maintaining and improving the various lines of communication within and between the fragmented communities should be a key concern. As a result CDC made a range of proposals to the Interagency Working Group, which were aimed at supporting and encouraging local communities in conflict resolution. These were:
CDC then set about trying to find ways to fund and support this proposal. A range of funding agencies and statutory bodies were approached, but with no success. Each of the mobile phone companies were contacted to see if they would donate phones or sponsor the project in some way, again without success.
Eventually the NIO were persuaded that the project was an idea worth pursuing and as a result of their support Making Belfast Work North and West teams agreed to take responsibility for hiring a number of mobile phones to be used in vulnerable communities. These would initially be hired on a weekly basis with the expectation that they would be used through the marching season. It was also agreed that hire of the phones would be extended if necessary.
CDC requested twelve mobile phones for North Belfast and these were provided by MBW. At this stage it was also decided to offer phones to groups in other interface areas of the city: in East Belfast; the lower Ormeau Road and Donegall Pass area; in Suffolk and Lenadoon and by groups on the Springfield Road/Shankill interface. In the end twenty-four mobile phones were hired for groups in interface areas across Belfast.
CDC organised and co-ordinated the network in North Belfast. They acted as the link between MBW and the local community sector, accepted the contract for the mobile phones and took responsibility for distributing and collecting them. They also organised induction sessions for the phone holders and provided the central role in the network.
Members of the two interface groups then decided on the areas in which the mobile phones should be placed and identified the individuals who would hold them. CDC staff took two phones to coordinate the network. Other phones were given to activists in White City, Whitewell & Graymount; Torrens & Wyndham Street; Tiger’s Bay & Parkside; Skegoneill & Glandore; and Ligoniel. Most of the phones were in use from early July and were returned in late August but some were retained in the community until November because of continuing tensions.
During the summer regular support was provided to community activists through meetings, visits and phone calls. CDC staff also contacted key activists in all interface areas in order to check out rumours, to help reduce tension and liased with the police and statutory agencies. CDC collated and distributed up-to-date information to help communities to manage difficult situations, worked with community activists when tension rose and facilitated dialogue between the various communities.
Staff at CDC also acted as a referral agency to NIHE for individuals who were under threat and communication was maintained with elected representatives in order to use their influence to reduce tension where appropriate.
Throughout the summer of 1997 the level of conflict was significantly lower than had been experienced in 1996. It was generally considered that the mobile phones were an effective tool and had contributed to this. Although no formal evaluation was carried out anecdotal evidence indicated that they were widely used to counter rumours and dispel fears. There was also a marked improvement in communication, organisation and co-ordination amongst the community sector and with the statutory sector throughout the summer marching season.
While the summer marching season was the most problematic time, the tensions raised during this period often continued, albeit at a less severe level, through the winter months. On the Edge notes that trouble had persisted in the Duncairn Gardens and Limestone Road areas through the autumn and in the Whitewell Road area through the winter months.
Intensive work by community workers in the Limestone Road area throughout 1997 helped reduce local tensions and ensured that the area remained relatively calm both during and after the marching season. However problems of low level violence and recreational rioting remained at the White City-Whitewell interface, particularly around Gunnell Hill and on the Serpentine Road, and at the interface between the Alliance and Glenbryn areas. In both of these areas there were numerous reported and recorded incidents throughout the winter months and into the spring. In both areas there were calls for permanent barriers to be installed between the two communities.
Similar problems in 1996-1997 had led to a barrier being built between Parkside and Mountcollyer and led to the Halliday’s Road junction with Duncairn Gardens being blocked off. On 1 April 1998 it was announced that the junction between Navarra Place and Serpentine Road would be closed off by a steel fence, although a pedestrian gateway would allow children to have access to Ballygolan Primary School. Work began soon after and the barrier was completed before the marching season began.
Making a decision over the Alliance-Glenbryn interface was more complicated. Local residents in both communities agreed to have the interface barrier extended the length of Alliance Avenue. However while members of the Protestant community in Glenbryn also wanted a barrier installed across Ardoyne Road, Catholic residents of the Alliance area objected to these plans. In the end no agreement was reached over the question of a gate across the road, and the delay meant that no work was carried out before the July period.
The problems in the Alliance and Whitewell areas had repercussions across North Belfast. They kept the issue of problems between the two communities at interfaces to the fore. They restricted attempts at cross-community dialogue. They also ensured that the issue of permanent segregation was high on the local agenda. The decision to erect the barrier on Serpentine Road meant that other communities looked more intently at the possibility of having a barrier to deal with their problems.
CDC do not favour the construction of barriers and the further fragmentation of communities in North Belfast, but rather favour continued dialogue as the means to reduce suspicion, tension and fears. However staff also recognise that the problems will only be resolved by the local communities themselves and in some cases the local communities feel that contacts will only be built from a position of security and safety, which can only be provided by a barrier.
The problems in Alliance and Whitewell also made people across the area apprehensive about the forthcoming marching season and general increase in tension that accompanies it. They also made people conscious of the need to prepare and plan an approach that would enable community workers and community activists to address these tensions.
Extending the community Phone Network
As a result of discussions that the Community Bridges staff had with the interface groups it was clear that the mobile phone network was seen as a valuable initiative in dealing with local problems and it was decided to try to continue their use in 1998. Eventually it was agreed that MBW would fund the project for a two-month period.
Initially twelve phones were supplied to CDC from 16 June, but CDC then requested an additional four phones and these were supplied by MBW on 29 June. All phones were to be returned on 14 August. CDC also added two of its own phones to the pool. As a result eighteen mobile phones were available for use by community activists. As well as these a number of community activists also included their own mobile phones as part of the network. During the year CDC had purchased a number of mobile phones for staff use this meant that the CDC Director, the Community Bridges Co-ordinator and the Community Bridges Development Workers were able to act as 24 hour contacts in the phone network.
The structure of the phone network was once again decided upon by CDC staff and members of the two interface groups. It was agreed that the phones would be given to community representatives in those interface areas that had continued to experience cross-community tensions and violence over the preceding year. The community activists were involved in identifying the most likely flashpoint areas and the people who would be willing to participate in the project. They were also responsible for getting support from local community groups for the project and perhaps most important of all for challenging the old ideas that trouble was inevitable and the community could do nothing for itself. The phone holders were based in the following areas:
Woodvale/Crumlin Road - Ligoniel
The distribution of the phones was such that many of the significant interfaces were linked into the network. This meant that in some cases phones were not simply paired off but grouped in clusters. For example both White City and Graymount have interfaces with Whitewell while Tiger’s Bay has significant interfaces with three adjacent nationalist communities.
However the limited number of phones that were available meant that not all interfaces were included in the network. For example Lower Oldpark also has an interface with Ballybone, Ligoniel has an interface with Ballysillan, Little America also has an interface with Westland, and White City has an interface with Longlands.
Furthermore the phone holder in Woodvale/Crumlin Road had to cover an extensive area from the Lower Shankill interface with Unity Flats to the Ballysillan/Ligoniel interface as well as the extensive interface between the Shankill and the Falls along the Springfield Road.
Finally there were also areas that were vulnerable to violence and protests during the summer but which were not strictly interface areas. The Mount Vernon junction with the Shore Road and the Fortwilliam M2 interchange had been a problem area in the previous two summers and the Shore Crescent area had also witnessed street protests. However neither area was an interface and therefore was not included in the groups who would be liable to have a phone.
It was decided that the majority of the phones would be given to representatives of the groups belonging to one of the two interface groups. The local groups then decided who would take responsibility for the phone in their area. However in three cases where an appropriate community was not represented on the interface group key local activists were identified and asked to take responsibility for a community phone.
Each of the phone holder groups was also given a list of the numbers of all the other community phones in the network, plus the mobile phone numbers of the Director of CDC and the three Community Bridges development workers. Phone holders were also given a list of key phone numbers of statutory agencies, local councillors and electees to the assembly, the Northern Ireland Office civil representative and the RUC.
The phone holders and their groups had the responsibility for informing their local community about the mobile phones and for spreading details about who had the phone, what the number was and what it was to be used for. This was largely done by word of mouth and by informing contacts in other local community groups about the project.
The mobile phone network list was supplied to all members of the Interagency Displaced Families Working Group (N&W Belfast HSS Trust; S&E Belfast HSS Trust; NIHE; MBW; Social Security Agency; Belfast City Council) and was also given to senior RUC officers in Antrim Road and North Queen Street. Relevant numbers were also given to Tennent Street and Greencastle RUC stations.
The 1998 Marching Season in North Belfast
The mobile phones were distributed in the days prior to the Orange Order’s Tour of the North parade, which this year was due to be held on Friday 19 June. On Friday 12 June the Parades Commission announced that the parade was to be re-routed away from the contentious section of its route along Clifton Park Avenue, Cliftonville Road, Antrim Road and Duncairn Gardens. In response the Orange Order announced that it would take an alternative route to Tiger’s Bay via Clifton Street, Donegall Street and York Road.
On the evening of the parade the areas around the interfaces at Clifton Park Avenue and on Duncairn Gardens were heavily policed. The parade passed off peacefully and there were only a couple of minor incidents reported overnight.
North Belfast remained tense but largely peaceful in the run-up to the Drumcree church parade on Sunday 5 July. However there was widespread activity across the area over the next few days once the parade was physically stopped. There were a number of protests along the Shore Road, which led to the road being blocked at the Grove, at Mount Vemon and at Shore Crescent. There were also protests at Skegoneill, Tiger’s Bay, Lower Oldpark, Westland, Glenbryn and on Crumlin Road.
On the Monday night there was an Orange Order parade from Carlisle Circus up the Crumlin Road and Oldpark Road. A small section broke away to parade along Clifton Park Avenue before being stopped by the police before they reached the barrier at Roe Street. Another parade left North Belfast for a protest outside the BBC on Ormeau Avenue on the Tuesday evening. But there was nothing like the number of protest parades across the city as two years previously.
On Monday there were roadblock protests in the same areas as on the Sunday, while other protests were also held in White City and at Ligoniel. There was more serious trouble at Duncairn Gardens where shots were fired and blast bombs were thrown at the police. York Road RUC station was attacked by a gang of youths and a number of petrol bombs were thrown, but no serious damage was sustained. In the Glenbryn area the Holy Cross Primary School was also attacked and suffered some minor damage.
A similar pattern of protests was repeated on the Tuesday night but thereafter the scale of the street protests began to die down. However the tension remained high and rumours continued to circulate about what was expected to happen at the weekend.
One of the most significant protests over the week was mounted at the bottom of the Ligoniel Road. The road was completely closed through most of Tuesday and this protest continued sporadically through the week. It climaxed on Thursday when a number of shots were fired at a crowd of nationalists who were watching the protest. Three men received bullet wounds to the legs as a result of this attack. This incident also marked the end of the protests in the area.
The incident in Ligoniel was one of the few cases where there was any direct conflict between loyalist protesters and nationalists. In most areas any violent clashes were between the loyalist protesters and the police while nationalist residents were largely content to maintain a watchful eye from a distance.
Interfaces across the area remained tense until after the Twelfth parades had taken place. The only two parades that affected North Belfast, on the lower Whitewell Road and from Ligoniel to the Shankill along the Crumlin Road, passed off without incident. Thereafter protests were ended and the tensions declined.
There were few significant incidents in North Belfast over the rest of the summer Most of the interface areas remained quiet although there were a range of sectarian attacks on property in the Graymount-Whitewell-White City area which ensured that the area would remain tense until after the Black parade on the Last Saturday in August. In the end the parade was re-routed by the Parades Commission, as it had been by the police in 1997, and the day passed off peacefully.
Although there was little direct sectarian violence in North Belfast as a result of the disputes over parades, the increase in tension and the persistent rumours and uncertainty left a number of households feeling afraid and vulnerable.
From mid-June to mid-July twenty-one householders presented themselves as requiring emergency accommodation in Belfast. Of these fifteen were from North Belfast, twelve households moved after protests started in support of the Orangemen at Drumcree while three had moved earlier between the Tour of the North and Drumcree Although this was nothing like the scale of displacement which had been experienced in 1996, this still meant nineteen adults and twelve children felt the need to leave their homes because of the disturbances. The displaced households were not evenly drawn from the two communities, the vast majority coming from the Catholic community, however they represented a more even balance of housing status, as owner occupies suffered as much as those in rented accommodation
The fifteen households who sought temporary accommodation comprised thirteen Catholic households one Protestant household and one mixed household. Five of them lived in Housing Executive properties while one occupied a Housing Association house, seven households lived in private rented accommodation and two were owner-occupier households.
The displaced families were also heavily drawn from those areas that had a recent history of communal violence. Six of the households had been living in Graymount and four were from the mid-Skegoneill area. The other households were in the Alliance, Torrens, Cavehill, Limestone and Duncairn Gardens areas. Not all of these areas had been subjected to protests or street violence during the Drumcree period but they were all in interface areas that had been subject to persistent high tension or recurrent sectarian violence over the previous few years.
There is no suggestion that all of these households had been subjected to either physical or verbal assault nor that they had necessarily been threatened in any way, although some of them stated that they had been subject to some form of intimidation. In many cases the experiences or memories of two years previously had been enough to make them leave as a precautionary act. Most people would be seeking to move permanently but some saw themselves as moving out temporarily and were hoping to return to their homes after the tensions had been defused. Whether this would be a realistic proposition would be another matter.
The scale of displacement in North Belfast was therefore considerably lower than in 1996 and some credit must go to the work done by people in the various communities over the summer months. With this in mind it is useful to compare the wider picture across Northern Ireland in the two years. In 1996 over 75% of displaced families were from North Belfast, whereas in 1998 the entire Belfast area represented fewer than 15% of displaced families (22 out of 154). While this is still an appalling statement of fact, it is at least a significant improvement and reduction in fear and suffering. In contrast areas such as Carrick and Lurgan-Portadown suffered a dramatic increase in intimidation that was clearly not expected nor anticipated.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :