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Council plan for young offenders to make amends by wiping graffiti

By Allan Preston

Young offenders could be recruited to remove offensive graffiti off walls under a plan being considered by Belfast City Council.

If approved, the rehabilitation scheme would see up to five young offenders transported on a specially-equipped 'graffiti bus' to city centre areas in need of cleaning.

Yesterday the Probation Board for Northern Ireland said the scheme would be the first of its kind here.

"The probation service has responsibility for community service orders, whereby people who offend are required to undertake unpaid work for the benefit of communities across Northern Ireland, as directed by the court," it said.

"The aim of community service is for individuals to pay back to the community in a positive way for the damage caused by their offending.

"Every year thousands of unpaid hours of work are completed, benefiting many communities across Northern Ireland. Community service is also extremely effective in reducing reoffending - 75% of those who complete community service do not reoffend within a year of completion."

It added that the negative impact of graffiti should not be underestimated, as whole neighbourhoods can feel the demoralising effect when their areas are targeted for unsightly graffiti, and the clean-up can be costly.

"Graffiti is also a prevalent and environmental problem, linked to anti-social behaviour in many areas of Belfast," it said.

At present Belfast City Council does not have a statutory duty to remove graffiti.

Current practice is to clean it from council-owned property, and in cases of contentious graffiti, to remove it with the owner's permission.

Cheryl Lamont, chief executive of the Probation Board, said she expected "the exciting development for Belfast" to be launched this spring, and, if successful, to be rolled out to other communities.

"We have been working closely with Belfast City Council to develop this innovative project," she said.

"The service will give an opportunity to offenders to make good on the harm they have caused to local communities as well as improving the environment for the citizens of Belfast."

Last December graffiti depicting DUP leader Arlene Foster as a green dinosaur caught media attention when it appeared at North Street.

Artist Glen Molloy - described as "the Belfast Banksy" - gained praise after painting murals, with permission, of the late singer George Michael at Botanic Avenue and late actress Carrie Fisher in east Belfast.

On Tuesday the council's people and communities committee approved permission to implement a memorandum of understanding with the Probation Board for the plan.

The decision will now have to be ratified at the next council meeting.

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