Residents insist protest not about race but about housing provision

The protest over allocation of housing on Glenluce Drive in the Knocknagoney area of east Belfast.
The protest over allocation of housing on Glenluce Drive in the Knocknagoney area of east Belfast.

Protests which led to a Nigerian man abandoning his newly-allocated house were not about race, residents of the street insisted yesterday.

Michael Abiona turned down the house earmarked for him in Glenluce Drive, east Belfast, after being confronted with banners calling for “local houses 4 local people”.

There were slightly mixed views about what had happened among those in the neighbourhood, with one claiming those behind the banners were making a legitimate point about the pressures on social housing.

One message was consistent though: that the incident was not “racist”.

The Housing Executive is treating the matter as such, and yesterday the NI Conservatives’ Mark Brotherston called on it to consider evicting tenants involved in “racist or sectarian incidents or protests”.

The NI Council on Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), of which Mr Abiona is a board member, said: “The intimidation of an individual because he is what residents deem to be ‘not local’ based on the colour of his skin, cannot be interpreted as a valid form of protest.”

NICEM also said it was “highly concerned” by comments made by Peter Robinson, who had told the BBC on Wednesday there was “no indication” the incident had been a bid to intimidate Mr Abiona, and said he was “not sure” if it could be branded racist.

The First Minister had said “nobody should be judged on the colour of their skin”. But he went on to add: “You might have had the exact same reaction if it was somebody from up country (who) was moving into an area where local people aren’t able to get houses in the locality they were brought up in.”

In Glenluce Drive, residents tended to agree.

Virtually none would be named, but one said the incident had been down to a handful of women who had wanted the house to be offered to someone they knew.

One woman said she agreed with the protest because the bungalow should be earmarked for the elderly or infirm – and claimed that when the protestors saw the intended occupant was black it was a surprise to them.

Another said his heart “went out to the guy on a personal basis” but that “you’re going to have your sort of territorial types, born and bred in east Belfast” – and that even if the new occupant had been white, “he’d have still been on the receiving end of a bit of hostility”.