Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 November 2015

Intimidation of Nigerian man Michael Abiona was distressing: Ending housing discrimination in law was only the first step

By Colum Eastwood

Published 20/06/2014

The banners erected outside a house in Glenluce Drive in the Knocknagoney area of east Belfast
The banners erected outside a house in Glenluce Drive in the Knocknagoney area of east Belfast

In the 1970s the SDLP worked hard to ensure that responsibility for the allocation of social housing should be taken away from local authorities who had proved unfit to discharge their responsibilities.

The level of discrimination against Catholics was unacceptable and unsustainable.

Local government was reformed and responsibility for housing was vested in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Those reforms put an end to institutionalised discrimination in housing and SDLP has been at the forefront of many other housing reforms since then. This is exactly why seeing the intimidation of Michael Abiona, a long term resident of Belfast who is originally from Nigeria in East Belfast was so distressing.

We have come so far, but evidently not far enough. Housing Reforms may have guaranteed that Mr Abiona was given an appropriate home but it could not guarantee a lack of discrimination from his new neighbours.

To see local residents place ‘locals only’ banners outside Mr Abiona’s home was bad, but to hear the First Minister Peter Robinson attempt to justify such appalling action was worse.

In my view, it once again raises serious questions about the First Minister’s judgment. To say that the incident could have happened even to someone from ‘up country’ who moved to the area is a blatant attempt to draw attention from what it was – intimidation and discrimination.

We may have changed law regarding discrimination in housing but we still have a disappointingly long journey to travel to end discrimination in the hearts and minds of our communities. Politicians must show the necessary leadership to make that happen.

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