Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Grant for community arts project

A commemoration of dead IRA members in Castlederg caused controversy
A commemoration of dead IRA members in Castlederg caused controversy

A Co Tyrone community group has received almost £100,000 for a project addressing tensions over parades, flags and dealing with past violence.

An IRA commemoration in Castlederg of two IRA men killed by their own bomb on their way to the town was one of the most controversial events of last summer and heightened local divisions.

The plan of Border Arts 2000 is to bring both sides of the community closer together through events like a cross-border piping festival.

Project coordinator Gordon Speer said: "Community relations in Castlederg have endured a rocky time in the last year but there is still a strong belief and willingness to move forward.

"We want to coordinate a new community response that generates fresh conversations on challenging issues and more positive options for young people."

Border Arts has already established forums for local businesses, clergy and community leaders, resulting in both communities signing up to the area's first Parades Calendar.

The project will also provide practical training and support for young people at risk of engaging in antisocial or unlawful behaviour.

The initiative received £98,727 through the International Fund for Ireland's (IFI) peace impact programme.

IFI board member Dorothy Clarke said: "Those involved in this project know the scale of the challenges ahead but are stepping up with an ambitious plan to help reduce tensions and unrest.

"For too long people in Castlederg have paid the high price for community division and even though it suffered considerably during the conflict, it has seen little of the dividends of peace.

"This project will open new options for the communities to take a collective step forward and support them to resolve divisive issues head on."

Border Arts has earned a strong reputation for peace and reconciliation work and previously mediated successfully between bands and residents' groups in Castlederg over parades and flags.

However recent difficulties around marches and protests stoked tensions and community relations suffered.

DUP leader Peter Robinson cited last year's republican parade in Castlederg as a key factor in his decision to shelve the Maze peace project, accusing Sinn Fein of glorifying terrorism.

The event, organised by Sinn Fein and addressed by Gerry Kelly, was to remember IRA dead, in particular two members killed by their own bomb on their way to the town.

Angry unionists, backed by some victims, dubbed the commemoration insensitive and demanded it be abandoned or banned.

Mr Kelly insisted the aim was not to hurt victims but said no unionist, no matter how loud they shout, will prevent him from honouring "comrades who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom and equality".

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