Thursday, 26 February 2009

Anti-social activity at the interface must end and it must end now!

This week a broad range of Community, Political and Church representatives met to discuss a way forward in tackling the anti social/anti community activity taking place around some of the interfaces in East Belfast.

What is taking place at the moment isn’t about politics, none of it is even about sectarianism; it is plain and simple thuggery!

People are suffering and they are suffering and the hands of a small number of young people, in no way representative of the vast majority of kids in the Strand. They are determined to wreck and they see no consequences to their actions. This must be challenged and it needs to be challenged at a broad community level. I am glad to see that this is now happening.

I have stood on the interfaces, with many other youth and community workers, taking abuse; I have visited the pensioners who are having their homes wrecked all for the sake of a few kids having a bit of ‘craic’. It isn’t craic and it isn’t what this community wants.

The elderly people who are suffering on both sides of the community deserves better, they have lived their lives and given their respective communities so much over their lifetime. I will not continue to have to visit these people night after night after the people responsible for frightening the life out of them have been and then retreated back to their homes, ready for bed and another school day ahead!

A letter was distributed to every home in the Short Strand last night calling for an end to this at once, an end to a small unrepresentative group holding valued members of our community to ransom in their own homes. It was signed by the Parish Priest Father Seán Gilmore, the Short Strand Partnership, the Short Strand Community Forum, Sinn Féin, the IRSP, the Workers Party and the Short Strand Safer Neighbourhood Project.

The only way to bring this resolvable issue to an end is for our community to stand together and say no. We were never bowed down, we were never afraid to leave our homes and walk through the streets even through the darkest of days. We owe the people who went before us and built this community a great debt, but we also have to build for the future ourselves and not allow a very small number the freedom to wreck and ruin as they please.

The Short Strand in many ways is a lucky community; obviously we don’t have every facility that we would like but what we do have are great people! People who will run numerous football teams, the only full-time youth club in the East of the City, work voluntary in the Community Centre night after night. I defy anyone to tell me the old mantra of ‘ah sure there’s nothing for them to do’ in this area, that’s wrong and it’s no longer an excuse. The Odyssey Complex is a five minute walk from both areas and the kids who are responsible are well aware of this, they simply choose not to engage in positive activities.

The overwhelming majority of kids in this area are a credit to their families and this community, they deserve to be commended and remembered in all of this. We have a great area and one that we can be proud of, that is why we are so united and so determined not to allow such a tiny number to feel that they can treat this community and its residents in any way they please. It simply will not happen.

There are many issues here, issues that I don’t believe those responsible have twigged on to. This type of activity is fundamentally putting their lives and the lives of others at risk, someone could die. Secondly the PSNI must act to end the misery being caused to pensioners in our area, the Social Services, as well as the City Council, Youth justice Agency, Housing Executive and others all have a role to play. We will be ensuring that they do!

I hope that after tonight’s public meeting we will emerge with a joint up, measured, proportionate and appropriate response to dealing with this solvable issue. I look forward to working with everyone in the Parish to make sure that the area is safe and empowered.

Ní neart go cur le chéile

Photo: Myself with one of the residents of the Short Strand whose home has been targeted numerous times as a result of anti social and anti community activity taking place on both sides of the 'Interface'

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