Loyalist justice project praised by Irish official
A senior official from the Irish Government has paid tribute to the residents of loyalist housing estate for their continued support of a community restorative justice project.
Aine de Baroid, who works for the Department of Foreign Affairs, attended the launch earlier this week of the North Down Alternatives initiative which is based in Bangor's Kilcooley estate.
North Down Alternatives is a government credited organisation and replaces the local Impact project which has been running successfully in the area for the past five years.
Based on the community addressing community issues, the project offers an alternative to old-style punishment attacks on young offenders engaged in low-level crime and anti-social behaviour in their areas through mediation.
This includes facilitating meetings between offenders and victims of their crimes and involves working with agencies such as the Housing Executive and the PSNI.
The Kilcooley-based Impact project - now known as North Down Alteratives - has proved so successful that is has been asked to mediate in issues affecting areas outside the Borough, such as Portaferry, south-east Antrim and south Londonderry.
The North Down Alternatives scheme was launched earlier this week and was attended by a host of dignitaries including the former speaker of the Assembly Eileen Bell, local MLA's Alex Easton and Stephen Farry and Irish official Aine de Baroid.
Ms de Baroid, who in September 2006 received a death threat from the UDA after working on outreach projects in loyalist and nationalist areas of Belfast, paid tribute to the work being done in Kilcooley.
She said: "I have been in and out of this estate for the past number of years and I see a noticeable difference. They are lucky they have people based in the community who are trained on how to deal with local issues in such a positive way."
Tom Winstone, manager of Northern Ireland Alternatives, welcomed the Bangor-based group "into the Northern Ireland Alternatives family."
He said: " Communities can take a hold of justice and shake it up and make it work for the people of the areas they are living in.
"Anti-social activity is right across Northern Ireland. I don't believe we will ever stop it but I believe we can manage it."
Tribute was also paid to local MP Sylvia Hermon, who backed the North Down Impact scheme when it was in its early stages of development and who has continued to be an ardent supporter.
Lady Hermon was unable to attend the launch due to Parliamentary commitments but North Down Alternatives Manager Jim Martin said: "She has been with us from day one.
"When we started out years ago with the Impact scheme, she engaged with us when others greeted us with scepticism. We have a lot to thank her for."