Derry protest over plans to axe Housing Executive

Supporters and staff members of the Housing Executive pictured during Tuesday's protest outside Richmond Chambers. (1801PG04)
Supporters and staff members of the Housing Executive pictured during Tuesday's protest outside Richmond Chambers. (1801PG04)

Scores of people took to the streets in Derry this lunchtime in opposition to plans to scrap the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Staff at the NIHE’s Richmond Chambers office - where 190 people are employed - and at the Collon Terrace office, staged a walkout as part of a Northern Ireland wide action organised by NIPSA. Others, including local politicians, turned out to support the protest which followed a major re-structuring move announced by the Department of Social Development last week.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ outside the Richmond Chambers office in Derry’s Diamond, Eileen Webster, Chair of NIPSA’s Public Offices Group, said she believes the campaign to save the NIHE will be won.

“We won a campaign against the introduction of water charges and we believe we can win this campaign against the abolition of the Housing Executive. What we’re planning is a broad-ranging community campaign involving the tenants associations and the community groups,” She said.

“We are absolutely opposed to the abolition of the Housing Executive, which would have a potential loss of upwards of 3,000 jobs.”

She added that buck cannot be “passed” to Westminster. “The buck stops at our Assembly with our elected representatives. It would be appropriate if they put as much energy into preserving the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which has performed a wonderful role for the last 40 years, as they do going crying cap in hand for tax breaks for the multinational companies and lowering of corporation tax.”

Local NIPSA branch secretary and Housing Benefit employee, Siobhan Doherty, said the preservation of the Housing Executive would be key to equality in housing allocation.

“The Housing Executive was born out of inequality during the Troubles. You can’t leave housing decisions in the hands of politicians.”

NIPSA representatives and Housing Executive employee, Maura McKeever said tenants will suffer. “The rents will be dearer, the housing rights will be affected, universal credit will lead to difficulty paying rent and bedroom tax will mean people will be taxed on empty rooms in their homes. These plans are ruthless.

“The Housing Executive will be dismantled and rebuilt in a way that suits Nelson McCausland with a loss of jobs, there’s no doubt about that.”

Around 190 people are employed at Richmond Chambers NIHE office and more than 30 at Collon Terrace.

Plans to break up the body, which has existed for 40 years, were announced by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland who said it was “no longer sustainable or made the best use of public money”.