29/06/2006

Irish President launches cross-community project

A cross-community project aimed at reducing sectarian tensions at an interface area in south Belfast has been launched today.

Irish President Mary McAleese, opened the Finaghy Crossroads Group, which was established by representatives from both sides of the community and in a bid to put an end to the sectarian hatred and anti-social behaviour in the area.

President McAleese welcomed the project, saying that it set an example to other communities facing similar problems.

Speaking earlier, she said: "Here are people who have given exemplary leadership, stunning leadership in a place which has now a new story to tell. There is a strong message going out to other interface areas who are trying to cope with endemic sectarianism, trying to cope with exactly the same kind of problems which are tackled here."

The scheme has a three-year plan and is aimed at young people, victims of conflict, former prisoners and the socially excluded.

The Finaghy Group also aims to encourage local schools, churches and youth centres to work with statutory agencies, community groups and residents to address issues such as drug abuse, under-age drinking and the lack of youth facilities.

The Group is also being chaired by Stiofan Long of Sinn Fein and Harry Smith, a former councillor with the Ulster Democratic Party, the political wing of the UDA.

Speaking at the launch Mr Long said: "This initiative represents a major breakthrough for community relations work in south and west Belfast and shows what can be achieved if both communities sit down with each other and discuss issues of common concern."

Mr Smith added that since its formation, the group had helped reduce sectarian incidents, tensions and anti-social behaviour in the greater Belfast area, however continued by saying that much work still had to be done.

President McAleese is due to attend a number of other engagements before returning to Dublin.

(EF/SP)

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