Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Special Report


Response from The Northern Ireland Executive

The Executive welcomes the publication of the Committee's report — Relocation Following Paramilitary Intimidation.

The Executive is encouraged to note that the Committee acknowledges that measures to tackle economic deprivation may be relevant in dealing with general paramilitary problems in that such conditions provide fertile recruiting grounds for such organisations. This issue was highlighted when Terms of Reference were developed for the West Belfast/Shankill Taskforces which were recently announced under the auspices of the Department for Social Development and the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

With regard to the Committee's specific recommendation (b) it will wish to note that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is beginning to gather additional information in this regard with a view to contributing to a co-ordinated data gathering process in due course. The Committee will wish to note, in relation to recommendation (c) that within the new Common Selection Scheme covering the allocation of all social housing in Northern Ireland, extended provisions relating to the possible sanctioning of applicants in a range of circumstances, including previous anti-social behaviour, are now operative.

With regard to recommendation (d) the Executive is committed to action in relation to the statutory duty imposed by section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 whereby any public authority, in carrying out its functions, shall have regard to the desirability of promoting good relationships between persons of different religious beliefs, political opinion or race. That said, individuals are entitled to choose where they wish to live. While there are many examples of areas in the private sector where people of different community backgrounds live side by side in harmony, the circumstances are such that the majority of applicants for social housing still choose to live in areas where their particular community background predominates.

The Committee will also wish to know that the Housing Executive consultation document "Towards a Community Relations Strategy", indicated it had commissioned research to investigate the possibilities for the development of integration. In the interim the Housing Executive will continue to encourage the creation of the conditions in which demand for integrated neighbourhoods would be stimulated.

The Committee will also wish to note that the North and West Belfast HSS Trust, which established an inter-agency co-ordinating group a few years ago following an upsurge in intimidation in this area, has produced agreed operational procedures which have been refined in the light of subsequent experience. The Trust's responses now include provision of financial assistance; referral to the appropriate support services for those traumatised by their experiences; and arrangements of access to playgroup facilities for children temporarily accommodated in hotels and B&B's. The Trust also provides a first line "out of hours" response for other agencies, including provision of temporary accommodation on behalf of NI Housing Executive.

Last year, the Trust dealt with about 250 families affected by such intimidation and paid out approximately £250,000 in financial assistance (under Article 15 of the Health and Personal Social services Order and Article 18 of the Children Order, to cover expenses such as meals, laundry and travel.) This is a major financial and administrative burden for the Trust and is mainly necessitated by the lack of flexibility in the Social Security benefits system - particularly the Social Fund regulations.

With this and other issues in mind, together with the more recent problems in North Belfast, the Executive notes the Committee's invitation to review the scope and effectiveness of the co-ordinating arrangements in Northern Ireland. Work is already underway at official level to identify how this may best be progressed. It is anticipated that the Executive will shortly be asked to agree to further investigative work being undertaken, in conjunction with other relevant departments and agencies, with a view to specific recommendations being brought forward in due course.

The Committee may also be interested to note that an Action Plan is being developed which will outline commitments to meet the needs of victims. This Plan will include references to intimidation, particularly in relation to its impact on housing and education.

Finally, the Executive wants to put on record its acknowledgement of the central role played by the Voluntary Sector in supporting individuals and families forced to relocate due to intimidation.

24 July 2001

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Prepared 17 December 2001