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Protests over 'disgraceful' closure of women's shelter Regina Coeli House

Paul Maskey MP

The closure of a shelter for vulnerable women in west Belfast which had been open for over 70 years has been branded a "disgrace".

Regina Coeli House is set to close on August 31, forcing its 21 residents onto the streets and its 20 staff out of jobs.

Protests had been held last week outside the hostel in a bid to save the service.

The Legion of Mary, which owns Regina Coeli house, said it regrets the closure "due to a lack of funding from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive."

In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph, the service's manager Charlie McGarry said he was devastated.

"It is with great sadness that I have been told of the closing of Regina Coeli," he said.

"This hostel for vulnerable homeless women, along with its counterpart Morning Star House, has been providing service and shelter to the Belfast community for over 70 years.

"During those dark night of the Troubles they were a refuge before there was a Housing Executive and they worked without wages."

He continued: "Having worked for the last 30 years in this field, I have witnessed many changes in people turning their lives around.

"However, I have also been involved in outreach on the streets of Belfast and have also witnessed many pitiful sights of broken women and men suffering from addictions, mental health issues - bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, paranoia - which are terrible and life altering conditions."

Mr McGarry called on First Minister Arlene Foster and her deputy Martin McGuinness to step in if money cannot be found to save the service.

He added: "There have been too many deaths on our streets thus far this year alone."

Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey blasted the decision to close as "pathetic".

"This is a disgraceful decision by the Legion of Mary and the way they handled it is nothing short of pathetic," he said.

Mr Maskey said it was "unacceptable" that staff and residents had only two weeks to vacate the premises.

He added that he and his party colleague Fra McCann MLA were seeking a meeting with the Housing Executive in an attempt to find a solution.

"Common sense must prevail here and I urge Legion of Mary and Housing Executive to engage in a meaningful manner to get this issue resolved," he said.

A spokesperson from the Housing Executive said they had not withdrawn support for the organisation, but had been informed by Regina Coeli's management of their intention to close.

They said: "We remain committed to ensuring these vulnerable clients are supported and services are properly resourced.

"We will work with Regina Coeli and other providers to ensure clients are able to access a satisfactory service."

Belfast Telegraph