A once in a lifetime chance to tackle sectarianism could be missed because of cuts in community relations youth work, it has been claimed.
Northern Ireland is being too complacent about division and the number of peace lines has not fallen following the end of armed conflict, the Community Relations Council (CRC) said.
The youth services budget has been cut by £50,000 and now stands at £27.6 million. Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said much of the savings could be made from management efficiencies.
CRC chief executive Duncan Morrow said: "Communities are crying out for support in breaking the cycle of sectarianism and violence among young people.
"Yet at the very moment when we need to be normalising a culture of interaction and equality we are savagely reducing all public support for schools and youth work in this area."
He said they understood difficult decisions had to be made about how best to use limited public money, but reducing funding available to support inter-community work with young people was "short-sighted and ill-advised".
"This is vitally important work which is intended to build the capacity of young people to create a shared future," he added.
"Young people want a new conversation, not to be forced back into the same lines as the past."
Ms Ruane said the "modest" reduction will be covered by an improvement in management before the Education and Skills Authority is introduced to ensure savings are delivered.
"I remain committed to the youth service and its role as an important part of the education system, one which helps all young people, in particular those who feel socially excluded, to develop their potential to the full," she added.