Interface communities organise talks

Interface communities organise talks

As residents at an east Belfast interface have experienced a spate of recent attacks, both communities have come together to explore how to resolve tension within the area.

It comes as a young mother of three told UTV on Tuesday that living in the area is "soul destroying".

Nicola Johnston, who lives on Bryson Street in the Short Strand, said that her six-year-old daughter has asked her if they can move home.

The worried resident admitted that she has had "serious conversations" with her husband about packing up and leaving the area, but said that they would end up losing their home altogether as no-one would want to buy it.

On Monday night, four petrol bombs were thrown at Bryson Street.

No one was injured in the attack and no damage was caused.

The incident came less than 24 hours after five petrol bombs were thrown at a house on Strand Walk on Sunday night.

Two of the missiles hit the front of the building, while three landed at the rear. No damage was caused.

Last Tuesday, a four-year-old girl was injured by a petrol bomb thrown onto Bryson Street. The incident happened while a group of children were playing.

On both sides, the kids are losing their childhood.

Nicola Johnston, resident

A grandmother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said her daughter had to carry her two children out of her home because of the attack - which is being treated by police as sectarian.

"It's very worrying because it's now coming into the summer season," Nicola said. "We can't actually let them stay out in the street playing. Tensions are very high. We're trying to maintain a calmness on the street."

Nicola also said that she didn't believe that it was people living on the front line of the interface that are throwing the missiles.

Claire Campbell, who lives at Thistle Court has said numerous objects have been thrown into her garden and that her children have narrowly escaped injury.

"It's awful, I've had to move my kids into the front room and me into the back room because my daughter's window is constantly getting hit.

"I've been doing that all week while trying to keep them occupied while things are being thrown over."

I have to say it was fascinating and relieving to see how both communities got on.

Chalky White, Charter NI

James Callaghan, grandfather of the four-year-old injured by a petrol bomb, took part in talks last week organised by residents on both sides of the peace wall.

"It was very friendly," he told UTV. "It was nice to talk to people from the other side, because believe me we don't get an opportunity to talk them."

Joe O'Donnell from the Belfast Interface Project has been facilitating talks.

"It was driven by local residents who felt that they wanted to play a part in resolving the difficulties and problems that have arisen over recent days," he said.

He said it was the first time some of the residents had met and spoken to each other.

"The talks were very constructive, it was very clear that residents on both sides of the wall didn't want what was happening. They certainly didn't support what was happening and they wanted it to stop."

Chalky White from Charter NI, explained how important the dialogue had been.

"It was only a few metres away and they had never met each other in their lives.

"It showcased that they are normal people and showcased that they want a normal life. They want their kids to play in the streets like every other kid."

The message coming from both sides was that local residents were not responsible for throwing missiles over the peace wall dividing the two communities.

Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile has condemned the latest petrol bomb attack and has called for political leadership on the problem.

All residents living across both sides of the interface have to be able to live in peace in their own homes.

Niall Ó Donnghaile, Sinn Féin

"This is the third petrol bomb attack into the Short Strand in the space of a week - one of which almost resulted in a four-year-old been horrifically injured," Mr Ó Donnghaile said.

"And not a single arrest has been made. After three months of failing this community during the flag protests, the PSNI must be seen to act - to deal with those hell-bent on attacking family homes."

He added: "Once again I am calling on the political leadership of unionism and loyalism to state clearly that these attacks must stop immediately.

"Residents on both sides of the interface are bravely taking a lead in meeting and engaging directly, it's time for others to follow that lead."

We cannot allow those opposed to a shared future and a better Northern Ireland to dictate how we live within our communities.

Maire Hendron, Alliance

Loyalist community worker Jim Wilson said that the recent spate of attacks has been frustrating.

He said the ongoing course of meetings had attempted to break down what was happening in the area and to find out where it is stemming from.

"In the last couple of days we have had meetings - three or four different meetings - going on," he said.

"We had residents pulled together by the Progressive Unionist Party on Sunday and yesterday, I know that the loyalist groupings met with each other and then there was a meeting with the police."

Alliance Councillor Maire Hendron also said that she was "disappointed" to hear of further attacks.

"It is unsettling that some still feel the need to resort to these violent measures, rather that engaging across the community to find a lasting peaceful solution," she said.

"It is incidents like these that deflect attention away from the good community work across the area."

© UTV

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