Northern Ireland news

State papers: Problems caused by paramilitary intimidation highlighted

NIHE chairman, Norman Ferguson to voice his concern to Stormont minister Richard Needham

BY the summer of 1986, in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, intimidation had reached serious proportions in Belfast, Portadown, Ballymena and other unionist towns, while other firms were being intimidated by the IRA for undertaking work for police and the British army.

On August 28 1986, W J Cameron, director of operations at the Housing Executive (NIHE), informed Frank Rodgers of the Department of the Environment of "the difficulties contractors working on various projects have had to face because of the threat of intimidation to themselves or their workforces".

Weston Construction, a Fermanagh-based company, had been intimidated on Belfast's Shankill Road while Grahams of Dromore, working at the Ballykeel estate in Ballymena, Co Antrim "were approached by masked men and all Catholic operatives were told to get off the site".

The file noted that Grahams would complete the contract when they had built up their workforce "with acceptable people".

Elsewhere in Co Antrim, problems had arisen at Carrickfergus, Greenisland and Toomebridge.

The crisis moved the NIHE chairman, Norman Ferguson to voice his concern to Stormont minister Richard Needham on August 15, 1986.

He acknowledged the ongoing threats "stemmed from unrest and polarisation" and the minister's "power to deal with it directly was limited", but felt he should be aware of the economic consequences.

As a result of intimidation, a number of contracts were not proceeding and the Housing Executive would face difficulty in attracting tenders "once word got around".

He suggested a meeting "to discuss the terrorist threat to contractors undertaking work for the security forces".

The Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Ken Maginnis phoned the minister's private office on August 21 1986 about the difficulties facing Weston Construction whose Catholic workers had been intimidated on NIHE on Shankill Road and in Dungannon.

The problem was discussed at Stormont on August 28, 1986 at a meeting involving Mr Maginnis, lawyer Richard Ferguson and officials.

Mr Ferguson explained "following the murder of a Catholic worker at their Shankill Road site, all the Catholic workers were refusing to work because of alleged intimidation".

No work had been done at the site for two months and the firm now faced serious financial problems. The solicitor urged the Housing Executive to pay the company £130,000 for the work done on the Shankill, as if Westons went into liquidation it would have a knock-on effect on other contractors.

Mr Maginnis said that he would use his position as a public representative to try to get security force protection for the workers but for the DoE, Frank Rodgers said: "While I must have sympathy for any firm facing intimidation, there were no easy answers and many difficult implications."

In a final note on the file dated September 26 1986, Mr Rodgers revealed the Housing Executive had dismissed Weston Construction and were seeking new contractors to complete the housing scheme.

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