Parties unite to condemn sectarianism and threats to families

Four Catholic families were forced to flee their homes in a shared housing development at Cantrell Close in east Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

THE leaders of the main Stormont parties have taken the unusual step of issuing a joint statement, condemning sectarianism and threats to residents in a shared housing development.

Four Catholic families were forced to leave their homes at Cantrell Close in south Belfast last week, an area that has previously been at the centre of controversy over loyalist flags.

Local people say there was a disturbance in the estate the weekend before police called to tell the residents they were under threat shortly before midnight last Tuesday.

Sinn Féin has blamed the UVF for the threats, although loyalist sources have denied this.

The PSNI has confirmed paramilitary involvement as one line of enquiry.

A statement was issued last night on behalf of the leaders of the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, UUP, Alliance and Green Party.

It said: “We as political leaders condemn all forms of sectarianism, intolerance and threats of violence.

"Four families have been forced to leave their homes in south Belfast. This is wrong. Any threat to these families should be lifted immediately.

"There is also an onus on the PSNI and the statutory agencies to provide immediate and appropriate support to the affected families, including re-housing those affected if they feel unable to remain in their homes.

"This situation runs absolutely contrary to the ethos under which the Cantrell Close development was created.

"Everyone has the right to live in a society without fear of intimidation and free from sectarianism.

"Those behind this threat offer nothing but hatred and division and should be condemned by all political, community and statutory leaders.”

The statement replaced an earlier version that included a reference to the Executive's 'Together Building United Communities' programme under which Cantrell Close was built, saying the strategy "represents where we need to go as a society in order to create a genuinely shared and welcoming community".

All four families who fled their homes are now seeking emergency rehousing.

A pregnant mother of a one-year-old child said she was told by police she was under threat because of her religion.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show, 'Jodie' she she did not feel the PSNI was doing enough to protect and support the families involved.

She said after informing her of the threat, officers "walked away and left me to it".

"We don't deserve this. I fought hard for the house - I just want a home and a safe place for my son. Everything was going well and then a year on we are out on the street," she said.

Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said the police response has included an increase in patrolling and "if Jodie is not aware of our actions I will apologise to her for that".

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Gerry Kelly met with senior officers yesterday and called for additional support for the affected families.

"It remains our view that the organisation responsible is the east Belfast UVF", Mr Ó Muilleoir said.

"Clearly that raises serious questions about the level of support offered to the affected families, particularly in terms of providing additional security and today the police provided reassurance that they would be stepping up security in the area.

"These families need to know that every possible step is being taken to protect them and there is an onus on all political, community and statutory leaders to stand firmly by the families affected."

Speaking at last night's monthly meeting of Belfast City Council, Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister also said that "together, as leaders in the community, we must stand up for the principles of sharing and integration and oppose intimidation in all its forms”.

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