Unite the union claims Communities minister Deirdre Hargey and NI Housing Executive chief executive Grainia Long are ‘dodging’ requests for a meeting on issue

Former Regina Coeli House worker challenges Legion of Mary to make old building available as a hostel for vulnerable women

Following the reported death of a young homeless woman (Thursday 14 July] on the streets of Belfast, Unite the union has demanded Stormont deliver on promises to provide ‘enhanced and expanded’ women-only supported accommodation. The commitment was made by Communities minister Deirdre Hargey before elections in response to a 12-week work-in and occupation by employees opposing the closure of Regina Coeli House – which was at that time Northern Ireland’s sole women-only supported-accommodation.

The commitment was for new, women-only supported accommodation to be opened by the NI Housing Executive (NIHE) by May 2022. Following failure to meet the May deadline, Unite has continued to demand a meeting with minister Deirdre Hargey and NIHE chief executive Grania Long on the issue but as yet no date has been offered.

Unite Regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald challenged both minister Deirdre Hargey and Grania Long on their failure to deliver on their promises: “The 12 week occupation by workers of Regina Coeli put the demand for a women’s-only hostel on the top of the political agenda. Promises were made that a new enhanced and expanded service would open by May of this year but nothing has happened. NIHE claims that it has experienced ‘exceptional pressure on suitable accommodation availability’ but this was entirely foreseeable and not acceptable as an answer.

“Where were the plans for a women-only hostel when difficulties emerged at Regina House years ago? The NIHE is offering a 24/7 women’s shelter as a sticking-plaster solution but this does not replicate the support and service that was available at Regina Coeli House. Tragically, and as predicted, we now see another young woman die on the streets – could supported accommodation have saved her life? We will never know but this demonstrates the continued price of doing nothing.

“Communities minister Deirdre Hargey and NIHE chief executive Grainia Long need to answer how many more women have to die before they deliver the replacement hostel they promised?

“We have consistently demanded a direct meeting with both the Communities minister and the NIHE chief executive but they have been dodging since May. They don’t appear to want to meet us so we are asking publicly how many more women have to die before they deliver the replacement hostel they promised? Unite won’t stop campaigning until they deliver on their commitments – they need to recognise we will be relentless in this fight to win basic services for vulnerable and homeless women.”

Emma McCann who was a worker at Regina Coeli House hostel for years providing support to vulnerable women, along with her colleagues who occupied the building, also expressed her shock at the tragic loss of life. Ms McCann said: “We ended our occupation having received a ministerial promise of a replacement women-only hostel. Now all we hear is the difficulties NIHE faces in getting a building.

“When the hostel closed, the workers and housing activists never stopped supporting homeless women. On a weekly basis we go out onto the streets and provide outreach support directly. We regularly meet residents from the hostel asking where they can go and what support there is.

“This needless death of a young women on the streets is heart-breaking. This was someone who was just at the start of their life with her whole future in front of her. I don’t know how we are going to go out and face those homeless women next week? What can we tell them? What is the minister and Housing Executive doing? The Legion of Mary still own the Regina Coeli building – why don’t they just open it up and make it available on an emergency basis? Continued inaction by those on-high will only mean the deaths of more women.”