Belfast Mayor Nicholl blasts Regina Coeli House management 'silence'

By Eden Wilson and James McNaney

Belfast’s Lord Mayor has hit out at the management committee of Northern Ireland’s sole women only hostel for refusing to meet to discuss the future of the home. Protests to keep the doors of Regina Coeli House in west Belfast open are now in their third week. Attending the protest at the hostel on Monday afternoon, Kate Nicholl described the conduct of the management committee as "outrageous and shocking". Last week Belfast City Council called on the management committee which runs the house to meet with elected representatives and the Housing Executive to find solutions. However, there has been no response.

The house is owned by the Legion of Mary, however, it does not manage the facility.

Speaking to UTV, Kate Nicholl said: "The fact that no one is responding to requests from elected representatives to meet to discuss a way forward, I think is shocking.

“I think that the Regina Coeli management committee... need to show some accountability here and come and meet."

In the face of this impasse, the Lord Mayor described her own motivations for attending the protest. "I really just wanted to come down and extend my support to [the staff] and to the women who are resident here. "I share their anger. It’s outrageous. They’re extremely vulnerable women in the only women-only homeless hostel in the city, and they’ve been treated abominably." The protesters received a further blow on Monday morning when, in a statement also seen by UTV, the Legion of Mary announced it had, “sadly concluded” that they must close the building by the end of February. It stated: “The members of the management committee deserve great credit for the work they have done to keep Regina Coeli functioning for the last number of years.

"However, following a building inspection… the house was found to be in a state of 'such disrepair that the only option was the closure of Regina Coeli'.” Support worker Bernadette Herald described the news of the closure as, "soul-destroying".

“We’re all just holding each other up because we know the importance of the hostel,” she said. Unite the Union, which has led the protest, told UTV that the house had lacked heating since just before Christmas and that the women living there were reliant on the support of the union and the local community for food and fuel. Julianne McNally from Unite described how, “the girls reached out, and we were able to secure some heating and some oil from local businesses, who topped up the oil to ensure the girls were warm over Christmas". “It’s a vital service. Especially at a time when domestic abuse and femicide in the North are at the rate they’re at, we should be focusing on retaining services like this and investing in them, not shutting them down.” The management committee has been asked for comment, however they did not respond.