Take to the streets? Derry’s housing need in 2016 is similar to that of 1968

Eamonn McCann. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Eamonn McCann. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

One of the key demands of the October 5th, 1968 march was for a crash programme of building public sector (“social”) housing and for a fair points system for housing allocation.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) came into existence as a direct result of the campaign to put these demands into practice.

Now the Housing Executive is being dismantled.

The Strategic Investment Board (SIB) - which contains not a single NIHE worker or tenant, but is entirely run by representatives of the “business community” - is in the process of selling off the NIHE’s entire stock of 80,000 dwellings and the various buildings owned by the NIHE, such as the NIHE offices in Derry.

Some of the offices due to be put on the market are located along the route of the original civil rights march.

The minute of a meeting between the SIB and NIHE management on September 13th says bluntly that “ownership of NIHE buildings is to be transferred by April 2018.”

This plan has not been presented for approval to the Assembly or to any other democratically constituted body.

In this, as in so much else, democracy counts for nothing.

An unelected body of the great and the good meets and makes decisions on matters which impact directly on the mass of the people. All the mainstream political parties seem content with this situation.

The SIB is answerable to the Executive Office. But neither the First nor Deputy First Minister has intervened to halt the moves to ditch the legacy of October 5th.

The NIHE was split in two in 2014. Now it is being dismembered, with hardly a murmur of protest other than from the workers’ union, NIPSA and People Before Profit.

We say that the NIHE should be brought back fully into the public service as a single entity and given authority to borrow to build the houses we so desperately need.

It is dismaying to observe that housing need in Derry today is equivalent to the housing need which drew tens of thousands onto the streets in 1968.

We call again on the Executive Office and on the Assembly to instruct the SIB to cease the destruction of the NIHE.

We believe the people have a right to know how many jobs will be lost as a result of the proposed sell-off

Housing Executive workers in Derry mounted repeated demonstrations against the discarding of the NIHE and the loss of desperately needed jobs.

But no-one in authority appears to have been listening.

Perhaps, we will have to take to the streets again to prevent the gains made by the last generation being lost for generations to come.