Saturday 19 October 2019 05:28:29 AM

Downpatrick NIHE Staff in Protest Over McCausland’s Statement
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STAFF at the Downpatrick NIHE office joined their colleagues across Northern Ireland in a mass walk out from work in protest at the DSD Housing Minister Nelson McCausland’s proposal to close down the Northern Ireland-wide housing body.

Downpatrick NIHE staff joined their colleagues across Northern Ireland in a mass walk out.

A NIPSA union represenatative from the Downpatrick NIHE office speaking to Down News said: “The Northern Ireland Housing Executive was founded 42 years ago to provide social housing management that was fair and equitable.  The organisation has provided such a service under very difficult situations free from political influence until more recently.

“Now DSD Minister Nelson McCausland proposes to destroy our organisation leading to increased rents, loss of jobs and once again interference by politicians. This is a backward step. While the organisation may require modernising, its obliteration is not the way forward.

“We have 23 staff located at the Downshire offices and they have played their part to try and help us live in a normalised society given the many difficult issues we have faced over the past few decades.

“Sixteen months ago there was a fundamental review of the system. We now need to have the power to be able to seek funding to meet the social housing demands on in Northern Ireland. And the NIHE itself needs proper funding to get the job done. The political road taken from 1996 has prevented the NIHE from fulfilling its aims. We have not had the support we should have received and there are people now living in dire conditions across Northern Ireland because of this. This proposal to close down the NIHE will be vigorously opposed… this is only the beginning.”

At the NIHE protest: South Down MP Margaret Ritchie with councillors, NIHE staff and Sean Rogers MLA.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie also attended the protest and added to her previous concerns and comments by saying: “We are not accepting Nelson McCausland’s recommendations and he had better think again. This decision has to be challenged.”

Sean Rogers SDLP South Down MLA also joined the protest by NIHE staff at the Downshire Civic Forum in Downpatrick .” The NIHE was born out of inequality over 40 years ago. It created a system where houses were allocated on need rather than creed.  The SDLP will fight Nelson McCausland’s plans to dismantle the NIHE at every stage . Our priority is the retention of jobs and the protection of tenants’ rights.”

Downpatrick Sinn Féin Councillor Liam Johnston said: “This decision by Minister McCausland has caused staff at the NIHE offices and elsewhere a lot of unnecessary anxiety about their jobs. Once again Downpatrick jobs have been threatened by decisions taken by Stormont ministers. The NIHE is absolutely important to hold on to prevent us going onto that slippery slope once again where housing slides into a possible sectarian agenda. It must be a fair system for all – if it ain’t broken, why try and fix it. The NIHE probably just needs an objective review and some improvements made, like any quango after a while.”

Downpatrick Councillor Cadogan Enright said: “The NIHE has to be given a fair chance. This situation needs to be looked at in detail at Stormont. The staff in Downpatrick are now unfairly facing a very uncertain future.”

Alliance Councillor Patrick Clarke added his comments following the protest and said: “I am very concerned that such a major and very important decision by the DRSD Minister regarding the abolishment of the Housing Executive should have been announced firstly on the floor of the Assembly rather than in a press release sent out to MLAs and the media.”

“I have now written to the DSD Minister asking him for assurances regarding the safeguarding of the Housing Executive jobs at the Downshire Estate in Downpatrick.”