Group apologises for controversial post about allocation of new social housing

The original Facebook message posted by Seymour Hill and Conway Residents' Association.
The original Facebook message posted by Seymour Hill and Conway Residents' Association.

A local community group has apologised for any offence it caused with a controversial Facebook post about the allocation of new social housing in the Seymour Hill area of Dunmurry.

With work nearing completion on phase one of Connswater Homes’ 98-unit scheme at the former Dunmurry High School site, Seymour Hill and Conway Residents’ Association posted messages on its Facebook page encouraging local people to apply for the new houses.

The residents' association issued a follow-up post apologising for the wording of its original message.

The residents' association issued a follow-up post apologising for the wording of its original message.

However, the group sparked controversy when it posted “get yourself on the list and lets get these houses filled up with people from loyalist/unionist community”.

As part of the post, the group urged anyone interested in the new houses to contact local DUP Councillor Jonathan Craig, saying that he would help them fill in the necessary forms.

Expressing concerns about the group’s social media post, Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said it raised a number of questions for Councillor Craig and the DUP.

“It will be interesting to hear if Councillor Craig and the wider DUP agrees with the association’s approach, which appears to be to make sure if this badly needed development is populated only by people who identify as loyalist or unionist. If that is the case, how genuine is the party’s supposed commitment to fair treatment and equality?”

Trevor Lunn MLA.

Trevor Lunn MLA.

His party colleague, Alderman Stephen Martin added: “It is deeply troubling there is a public suggestion the residents’ association only supports one section of the community being allocated housing in this development.

“The association receives public money from Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. They may wish to investigate if this is the only matter being directed to the benefit of one group of people.”

Responding to the criticism, Seymour Hill and Conway Residents’ Association removed the controversial post and apologised for “using the wrong vocabulary”.

A follow-up post on the group’s page said: “Due to a recent post where we used the terminology loyalist/unionist to apply for the new housing development it wasn’t our intention to cause any offence to the rest of our community, as a community group we represent everyone, but as we had a lot of residents come into the office feeling that because they are unionists/loyalists they are finding it hard to get housed in their own area where they grew up in & who want to be housed here, so the post was aimed at local houses for local people we apologise for using the wrong vocabulary, we as a community group work tirelessly with all different groups in the area, including cross-community groups in which we do great work with and who we have developed a great friendship with, we are all unpaid volunteers in our group who work up to 40 hrs a week bringing great developments to the area, we are all still on a learning curve and sometimes we do make mistakes and things are taking out of context, we hope this apology can rectify our mistake and we can all move forward & learn from it in the future.”

Cllr Jonathan Craig.

Cllr Jonathan Craig.

Speaking to the Ulster Star, Cllr Craig accused the Alliance Party representatives of “playing politics with a local community group”.

“Housing allocation is a matter for the Housing Executive who do it on a needs basis. They don’t do it on religion or politics, they do it on a needs basis,” he said.

“If anyone comes to me in my advice surgery I will help them with their needs and help them fill in forms. That part of the statement is one hundred per cent correct.”

Describing the wording of the group’s original post as “clumsy”, Cllr Craig added: “What people in the group are really concerned about is that there are loads of families in the area whose children have had to move away to other areas because there was no housing available, social or private. A lot of those people want back into the estate and this is a golden opportunity for them to try to get back in, but obviously that will be decided by the needs based system.”

Alderman Stephen Martin.

Alderman Stephen Martin.

Welcoming the “exciting new development” in the area, Cllr Craig said it will include a new play park, multi-use games area and, possibly in the future, a new community facility.

Responding to the community group’s apology, Mr Lunn said: “I welcome the community association’s statement and am encouraged by the response. I hope they give the same attention to anyone who looks for their assistance without regard to race, religion or political affiliation.”

Mr Lunn added that he was “pleased to see Jonathan Craig’s reply”.

Stressing that properties will be allocated using the Housing Executive’s points system, a spokesperson for Connswater Homes said: “Connswater Homes, as a social housing landlord, allocate properties using the NIHE housing waiting list. Applicants on the waiting list are assessed on housing need and the allocations will be carried out in line with the rules and regulations of the housing selection scheme.”