Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Interface task force to tackle east Belfast violence

A Northern Ireland police officer puts a bandage on a press photographer's leg after he was shot by a rioter in East Belfast
A Northern Ireland police officer puts a bandage on a press photographer's leg after he was shot by a rioter in East Belfast
The annual Tour of the North Orange Order parade, Belfast, June 2011

A task force is likely to be set up to tackle the root causes of the wave of violence which has struck east Belfast, it has emerged.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have instructed a senior civil servant to engage urgently with community leaders in the Newtownards Road and Short Strand to pinpoint specific areas of concern.

In a joint statement the First and deputy First Ministers said: “We would ask everyone to give the official the time and space to conduct this work.

“The official has been asked to bring back a report promptly and make recommendations as to how problems in the area can be addressed. By working with local communities and agencies we want to ensure that interface issues are tackled across Belfast.”

It is thought the specialised group could be convened in the relatively near future after Mr Robinson was involved in talks yesterday aiming to calm the atmosphere and create the space for meaningful talks.

Senior Orange Order leader Rev Mervyn Gibson and republican community activist Sean ‘Spike’ Murray were believed to be involved in a series of meetings yesterday which were reported as making “some progress”.

Mr Robinson, while repeating his warning that the disturbances are damaging the reputation and image of the province, pledged to meet any groups with issues they need addressed.

His vow came as the political parties on Belfast City Council came together to make a united call for calm and give a commitment to “engage and listen” to all communities affected by the recent unrest.

The meeting included Hugh Smyth, of the Progressive Unionist Party, which advises the UVF, the terror group blamed by police for sparking the trouble.

Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile convened the meeting, which included DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance councillors.

He said: “There has been widespread recognition of the damage being caused to the city, but it is the ordinary local people who are being most seriously affected.”

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