Image: VIEW editor Brian Pelan speaking at the protest in Jubilee Gardens, Belfast
By VIEW editor Brian Pelan
A rally took place last Friday (December 15) to welcome Belfast City Council’s decision to restore 10 park benches at Jubilee Gardens (at the junction of Victoria Street and High Street near the Albert Clock in Belfast).
The rally, organised by VIEWdigital, also highlighted the issue of homelessness in Northern Ireland.
The benches, which have been used by rough sleepers, were removed several days ago after the council claimed the park had been the scene of anti-social behaviour.
VIEW editor Brian Pelan said: The removal of the benches sent out the wrong message in how to deal with rough sleeping and homelessness.
“i am glad that the benches have now been restored and that anyone, young or older, can enjoy sitting on them again.
“If we are really serious about tackling homelessness than we must lobby for a massive programme of social housing to be started.”
Many people and organisations had hit out at the council’s decision to remove the benches, including VIEWdigital, SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh, Alliance Party councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown and journalist Kathryn Johnston.
The Irish News also provided extensive coverage throughout the dispute. The item was also featured on the Stephen Nolan radio show on BBC NI.
VIEWdigital were contacted by many concerned individuals about the removal of the benches. Out Twitter account @VIEWdigital was deluged with tweets voicing support for our call for the benches to be restored.
Singer Brian Kennedy sent a letter to VIEWdigital which was read out at the event by Kathryn Johnston.,
Brian voiced his support for the homeless of Belfast and urged Belfast City Council to acknowledge Belfast’s ‘homeless pandemic’.
“I want to lend my support to your peaceful protest and urge Belfast City Council to acknowledge the homeless pandemic sweeping our country.
Stephen Mullan, who was himself once homeless, contacted VIEWdigital to offer his support.
He said “Many, many years ago I became homeless and a rough sleeper. I slept in Jubilee Square – on a small wall, hidden from site because of the bushes and trees. A few years back Belfast City Council removed the trees and bushes and now this. These benches could save lives.”
Rob McAdam, chair of Addiction NI, pointed out the links between addiction and homelessness.
“Many of our homeless community have addiction issues with alcohol and/or other drugs. It is incumbent on all of us to tackle this growing problem head on.
“There are people dying on a weekly basis on our streets due to the failures in investing in our communities. And those failures come from the lack of easy access to intervention.
“In the light of the bench removal I would call on Belfast City Council to reinstall them immediately and to focus their efforts in working in partnership with the community and voluntary sector to support rather than inhibit a section of our society that already faces an uphill battle.
“If anyone does require support with addiction issues, they can contact Addiction NI SAG on 02890 664434.”
Unite Community also offered their support to the rally.