The Community Relations Council met with Department of Justice Minister David Ford MLA and his officials this week (6 October) as part of CRC’s round of briefings with Government Departments on community relations issues.
CRC welcomed the lead shown by the Department on the issue of interfaces and the support given to initiatives such as the opening of the gate in Alexandra Park in North Belfast. The importance of continuing work to remove other interface barriers with the agreement of local communities was agreed and CRC updated the Minister on its work to support peace-building initiatives in the development and delivery of short, medium and long-term actions to address interface issues.Issues of community safety and policing in a peaceful environment were of particular importance.
This work includes CRC facilitated groups such as the Interface Working Group, Interface Community Partners and the Beyond Belfast Steering Groupwhich work to find ways to provide structured support for initiatives to regenerate interface areas/contested space, leading to the eventual creation of open, and vibrant communities free from fear, threat or any obstacle to interaction across the region.
The Department of Justice reiterated its position that in all responses to the legacy of physical segregation the safety and security of the people living near to interfaces and interface barriers will be the priority.
CRC expressed the view that greater co-operation was needed across Departments to address the issue of interfaces, and that this needed to happen at the level of the Executive as a whole.
The Social Investment Fund announced by OFMDFM was welcomed by CRC who also pointed out that it had clear relevance for issues of community safety which fell within the remit of the Department of Justice. CRC pointed out that interface areas were also the areas of greatest economic and social deprivation and urged that the Fund should be used to encourage greater inter-community co-operation as an essential element in the alleviation of deprivation in interface areas.