Alliance Councillor Michael Long has expressed his anger after learning that it was necessary for the Housing Executive to spend £2.2 million in the last financial year in Castlereagh to acquire properties under the Special Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED) scheme.
The scheme allows for the purchase of an Owner/Occupied property where that owner has been intimidated or threatened, usually because of paramilitary action or for sectarian reasons. Cllr Long believes that these figures begin to illustrate exactly how much money paramilitaries are costing society, since the money has had to be diverted from other budgets such as providing home improvements.
Cllr Long said: “I am angry at the paramilitary groups, republican and loyalist, that have been responsible for the Housing Executive needing to spend huge sums re-housing victims. These figures illustrate the drain that these groups are on the community, and particularly to the most vulnerable and least well-off in our society.
“This money could have been spent on improving the housing stock through better heating schemes, for example, but instead it has had to be spent cleaning up the mess left by paramilitaries. It is quite clear that far from defending communities, paramilitary groups are destroying them by denying them resources, in addition to their extortion rackets, drug dealing and assaults.”
Cllr Long said the revelation of how much it cost to rehouse people intimidated out of their homes in borough put paid to Peter Robinson’s recent comments during a debate on power sharing in Castlereagh Council. The MP claimed that Castlereagh was not a divided community or coming out of conflict.
“The cost of intimidation shows how the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who claimed that Castlereagh was not deeply-divided, got it so badly wrong recently. Not only is he apparently unaware of the intimidation in his constituency, he fails to understand how paramilitary groups are continuing to destroy the lives of people in our Borough.
“It is bad enough that we have division in our community, which these figures clearly illustrate, but it is even worse if people pretend that this is not the case. Alliance, on the other hand, will not ignore the reality on the ground and we will continue to try to provide the leadership necessary to unite Castlereagh’s community.”
The figures have been supplied to Cllr Long in a written reply following a question at a recent Council meeting attended by the Housing Executive. £2.2 million spent on acquiring properties under SPED in 2003/4 and £254k spent to date in the current financial year.
The SPED (Special Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings) scheme operated by the Housing Executive allows for the purchase of an Owner/Occupied property where that owner has been intimidated or threatened. The present scheme was introduced under Article 29 of the 1988 Housing Order.