Sunday, 13 September 2009

East Belfast Herald - Platform Piece

The following is a copy of the platform piece from myself which was printed in this week's East Belfast Herald. It focuses on the work that has been ongoing and which needs to continue following the violence that broke out a fortnight ago:

The work to build relationships at a cross community level following last week’s violence continues unabated. Obviously there are fundamental differences that exist but thankfully we have moved beyond allowing that to get in the way of delivering for all of our people at a grassroots level.

After the trouble that flared on Monday night, and the attack on my parent’s home, I met with both representatives of the Loyalist community as well as the PSNI in east Belfast. This continued engagement will see us through difficult times that present themselves, it will also see us working together to make real and positive change for our communities. While others cast blame and choose to focus on releasing statements, we plough on with the programme of work that needs to be done.

Obviously representatives from the Loyalist community raised a number of concerns with me; this is the nature of our engagement, that we have a mature and responsible forum in which to highlight our concerns and issues. Obviously I too raised concerns from my own perspective. It is always amazing how similar our concerns regarding anti social behaviour at the interface are.

The established links between community workers and representatives have seen real delivery and real progress on the ground, in fact during last week’s trouble representatives were in contact via telephone during the whole period. I have no doubt that this engagement and work will continue in the time ahead and understand that at times that is difficult for all involved.

I have very real concerns with the use of plastic bullets during the trouble that occurred; I don’t believe they have any place within a civic policing service nor within broader society. Sinn Féin raised these concerns with the PSNI Command in east Belfast and will raise this issue at a higher level in the coming weeks.

The violence inflicted upon us last week is the culmination of eighteen months of trouble, most often pre-planned and orchestrated using social networking websites and mobile phones; those of us who are out at the interfaces week after week know this. I am sure that I can speak for both communities when I say that we will continue to step up in terms of our leadership role in challenging those who are intent on inflicted such hurt and trauma on the people who live at the interfaces.

The reality is that we cannot nor should we be expected to do this in isolation. East Belfast must see the necessary support offered to our community and youth workers, it must see direct action from Belfast City Council the DPP’s, Social Services and all the other key statutory bodies in order to help prevent so many of our young people being enticed into these situations where they then find themselves caught up the criminal justice system, we must also target the necessary resources into supporting those people who work on the interface with these young people but also towards the people who live on them and have suffered so much, often in silence.

I am proud to be from the Short Strand community, I live and work here. I am determined to continue the work I have been involved with in building relationships and understanding between both communities, be sure that I will continue that work undetracted by those who seek to exploit certain opportunities for cynical publicity purposes. No one said this task would be easy and I don’t believe it will be, but I do believe we owe it to ourselves, our families and our communities to do all that we can to make east Belfast a safer and better place to live.

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