Leading article

Attitudes of intolerance and prejudice must be challenged

The UVF threat to four Catholic families in Cantrell Close, Belfast, rightly caused outrage but the reality is that this is a bigger problem with hundreds of people forced from their homes every year by paramilitaries.

Figures obtained by The Irish News show that from April 2016 until March this year, a total of 477 people presented as homeless to the Housing Executive because of paramilitary intimidation.

This number is ten per cent more than the previous year when 433 presented as homeless.

It is a depressing and disturbing reflection of our society that almost twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, families are being forced to flee their homes because of threats from illegal organisations who should have long since disbanded and disappeared.

The despicable intimidation on display at Cantrell Close placed the sectarian agenda of the East Belfast UVF in the spotlight but it is clear that Northern Ireland has a wider issue in terms of eradicating this type of repugnant behaviour.

The scale of the problem cannot be underestimated, and leads to fear, trauma and disruption for hundreds of families.

There is also a financial cost.

Data obtained by The Detail website show that during the past five years, the Housing Executive spent £6.7 million buying 57 houses from home owners forced out as a result of not only paramilitary and sectarian intimidation but also threats due to race, sexual orientation and disability.

Unfortunately, examples of hate crimes and the vile attitudes that fuel them are all too visible, from the recent spate of racist attacks in Belfast to a `Taigs Out' sign in the Co Down village of Clough, which sends out a particularly chilling message given its location.

Also completely unacceptable is the targeting of war memorials and the poppy wreaths laid to mark dead members of the British military.

We need to challenge and condemn the intolerance and prejudice that leads to intimidation in all its forms.

Politicians can give a lead but it is a deep-seated issue that society as a whole must acknowledge and address.

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