Dignity and poverty

North Belfast housing activists, Marissa Mc Mahon and Angie Mc Manus will form part of the NI Anti Poverty Network delegation to Brussels this week to raise issues of continued housing inequality.

The delegation will meet with housing activists across Europe to inform the European Anti Poverty Network’s annual report to the European Parliament on housing and homelessness. The event is being organised by the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Marissa and Angie have been campaigning with the Seven Towers Residents Group for decent housing and resident involvement in the decisions made about their homes in the New Lodge flats for 5 years.

The work of the group throws a spotlight on the housing shortages which continue to plague north Belfast. Despite the signing of the Good Friday Agreement fourteen years ago, which contained obligations on government to actively tackle inequality, there has been little improvement.  North Belfast, one of the top ten most deprived wards of Northern Ireland has over 2400 people on the housing waiting list, with the majority of those in housing stress from the Catholic community. With current plans for housing development barely scratching the surface of the problem and no specific strategy to tackle the inequality, the crisis looks set to deepen.

This visit comes in the wake of the visit to North Belfast in December 2011 of European Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg who visited the Seven Towers flats and stated:

“…The conditions I witnessed in the Seven Towers are only one illustration of a problem affecting, in particular members of the Catholic community, across north Belfast… The UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights directed the government to put in place a strategy to meaningfully address this in 2009 and I am disappointed that no action appears to have been taken in response to this.”

Angie Mc Manus explains the importance of the visit to Strasbourg:

“The evidence we have collected shows the extent of the poor housing conditions faced by residents in North Belfast; it tells the stories of those on the waiting list forced to endure conditions which make their children ill. We’re going to Strasbourg to have this evidence presented to the European Union, so that they can ask government here why they haven’t changed the way they do their business which is leading to such a crisis on the ground. The housing crisis in North Belfast calls for a change in approach by the government, it demands that they listen to the people on the ground.”