Protest against bid to extort cash from Belfast social housing contractors draws crowd of 200
Around 200 people gathered in north Belfast's New Lodge last night to protest at an attempted extortion bid on contractors preparing to start work on newbuild social housing development in the area.
The contractors - working in behalf of Newington Housing Association - were approached and threatened by suspected republican dissidents, and have been scared out of the area, according to informed sources.
Local representatives hit out at the extortion bid.
North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness told the Belfast Telegraph that the contractors were threatened by men who demanded money - and said they would destroy plant machinery belonging to them.
"Local people responded very clearly and with great force to this intimidation attempt," Mr Maginness said.
"These criminals are not going to win.
"The community has fought long and hard to have this area redeveloped - and it will happen.
"These people will not succeed. The community have stood in solidarity with the Housing Executive, with Newington Housing Association and the contractors in order to demonstrate their opposition to intimidation and extortion."
"Interference with the world of the contractors is to be condemned - and all of us who represent this area are united in solidarity with the community to prevent this happening.
"We will not tolerate this," he added.
Local Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee said in a statement: "Tonight's protest is a community response against criminal gangs attempting to extort workers building new homes for the people of the New Lodge.
"This community has been campaigning since the 1990s for the redevelopment of the New Lodge. This has now been threatened by criminal gangs demanding extortion money from this scheme."