286 individuals and families rehoused due to paramilitary intimidation

In the year to the end of March, 69 families and 217 individuals were relocated by the Housing Executive due to paramilitary threat

ALMOST 300 individuals and families across the north were rehoused in the last year due to paramilitary intimidation.

Nearly two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, loyalist and republican paramilitaries continue to force people from their homes.

According to figures disclosed through a freedom of information request, in the year to the end of March 69 families and 217 individuals were relocated by the Housing Executive for this reason.

Over the past three years, this total has increased by more than 10 per cent.

Last year the majority of these individuals and families were rehoused in south and east Belfast, followed by north Down and Ards.

At the end of May, Colin Horner, an associate of murdered loyalist George ‘Geordie’ Gilmore, was gunned down in a supermarket car park in Bangor, north Down.

He had been rehoused in the area after receiving paramilitary threats relating to a UDA feud in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim.

In November 2015 the DUP and Sinn Féin signed the Fresh Start Agreement which included the establishment of a panel to work towards the disbandment of republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

The agreement came two years after the Executive published their Together Building United Communities strategy in order to tackle the sectarian divide at neighbourhood-level.

Since then millions have been spent in implementing this strategy, part of which involves moving away from contested to shared spaces.

To do this, the Executive pledged to create four ‘Urban Villages’ and build 10 ‘Shared Neighbourhood Developments’.

One such development, Global Crescent in south Belfast, was in the headlines recently after dozens of UVF flags appeared on lampposts in the area.

The DUP’s MP for the the area, Emma Little-Pengelly, was criticised after claiming there was no widespread demand for the removal of UVF flags from the cross-community housing development.

Ms Little-Pengelly’s candidacy for the South Belfast Westminster seat was endorsed by a UDA-linked magazine as well as the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.

UUP MLA Andy Allen said the figures were ‘very concerning’.

“There does not seem to be any progress in moving away from a situation where, particularly in the greater Belfast area, illegal gangs are continuing to exert social control and dictate who lives where,” he said.

“It is important to note that those carrying out these acts of intimidation are not representative of wider society and their actions are not welcome.

“The three-person panel appointed by the executive with the task of recommending a strategy to disband paramilitary groups clearly have a crucial and difficult role to play.

“However, there needs to be an executive in place at Stormont to progress an action plan to implement the panel’s strategy.”

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