Belfast Telegraph

£7.5m bill to rehome intimidation victims in Northern Ireland

By Michael Sheils McNamee

The Housing Executive spent more than £7m rehoming people who fled under threat in the last five years, it has emerged.

Almost 2,000 incidents of residents being forced out took place in Northern Ireland since 2012.

Despite the high number of cases, just 32 convictions linked to the intimidation were recorded in a similar period.

The information was obtained by The Detail website.

Figures show that since 2012 the Housing Executive spent £6,709,430 to purchase 57 properties from homeowners forced out as a result of paramilitary, sectarian, racist, homophobic or disability-related intimidation.

These properties were purchased through the Scheme for the Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED).

For renters, emergency grant payments of £754 were made in more than 1,000 cases where people were forced out due to intimidation.

A breakdown of the types and location of intimidation by The Detail suggests the majority of incidents involved loyalist paramilitaries.

An analysis for the past two years by council area shows the majority of such incidents happened in Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Ards & North Down, and the Antrim & Newtownabbey council areas.

A Freedom of Information request to the PSNI seeking the number of individuals arrested on grounds of intimidation was refused because of cost reasons.

A similar request to the courts service recorded 32 convictions that related to "intimidation - causing a person to leave residence/occupation".

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said £50m was being spent on a new paramilitary taskforce, with tackling intimidation part of its focus.

However, SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said the figures reveal the strength of the grip that paramilitaries have on communities across Northern Ireland. He urged the PSNI to disrupt and dismantle the gangs responsible.

"The new paramilitary taskforce must be a vehicle to disrupt and dismantle these criminal gangs.

"There can be no hiding place for the thugs seeking to dominate our communities," he commented.

"The clearance rate for these crimes is appallingly low.

"I will be pressing PSNI representatives for progress on this."

Last month it emerged that threats had forced four Catholic families to leave the Cantrell Close shared housing scheme in south Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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