Belfast Telegraph

600 interface incidents since April

More than 600 interface incidents have been recorded in Northern Ireland since April, police said.

Assaults, intimidation, petrol bombings and anti-social behaviour made up most of the cases, which include divided parts of Belfast, according to PSNI chief superintendent Nigel Grimshaw.

He said officers wanted to spend less time dealing with problems connected to the flashpoints and more on everyday policing.

"Despite our progress there are still too many incidents happening that have a consequence for everybody."

He said it impacted on the community and wider policing.

"I am required to put resources to deal with those incidents but those resources could be doing other things."

He said police were dealing with the realities of financial austerity and tight budgets.

Millions are spent policing the area surrounding the loyalist encampment in North Belfast which is protesting against restrictions on a July 12 parade past Ardoyne.

Recently a barrier dividing communities at a notorious interface in east Belfast was created for use during times of tension.

Justice Minister David Ford has said the net structure in the grounds of St Matthew's Catholic church on the lower Newtownards Road was not a new peace wall and envisaged that it would be retracted for most of the year.

The installation of the new security measure at the interface between the nationalist Short Strand and loyalist Newtownards Road areas comes at a time when the Stormont Executive has publicly committed to removing permanent barriers separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods within 10 years.

The area around St Matthew's has been the scene of violent clashes in recent years, with residents on both sides claiming they live in fear of attack from missiles.

Mr Ford has said the best way to keep people safe is to build connections between communities rather than barriers and reduce the number of interfaces remains a priority.

"Significant progress has been made by community groups and statutory agencies, by working together to reduce these structures.

"Indeed we have been able to reduce the number of DoJ (Department of Justice) structures from 59 to 53 since devolution (of justice powers)."

The Together: Building A United Community Executive document sets an ambitious target to remove peace walls by 2023.

Community Relations Council chair Peter Osborne said: "Politicians and civil society have made enormous progress in the last 20 years.

"We are a different society in 2014 compared to 1994, and we do need to acknowledge the progress especially in the context of the bitter conflict from which this society has emerged.

"But we do need a step change in how take forward the political and peace processes and how we tackle division. Them and Us attitudes still determine how we approach too many issues including in interface areas."

He said interface barriers were often located in areas that for decades have been amongst the most disadvantaged communities.

"These statistics don't seem to change and we must better understand, and act on, the link between the financial and social cost of division, and sustained social and economic disadvantage.

"Reintegrating communities at the front line of conflict, violence and inequality, back in to the mainstream of civic life must be at the centre of this step change and strategy."

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