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Stormont 'failing to deliver on its Fresh Start promises'

By Rebecca Black

The chairman of the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) has challenged the Executive over its lack of progress following the Fresh Start Agreement.

Dr Adrian Johnston said the IFI launched a peace consolidation strategy last year - around the same time as Fresh Start was signed - and since then can show results.

He also said he was aware of paramilitaries still targeting young people for recruitment.

The IFI has invested in a number of projects aimed at enabling communities to reverse the severe effects of division and divert young people away from the influence of armed gangs. While these have been a success, he claimed the lack of progress from Stormont had stymied his ability to create change, and was alienating local communities which were trying to move forward.

"Community appetite for these initiatives is much greater than the resources we alone can assign to it," Dr Johnston said.

"The Fresh Start Agreement was unveiled at the same time as our strategy and showed an ambition to advance on areas where the Fund made the first successful interventions.

"Community groups are taking risks and generating momentum for change, but for progress to be sustainable support from statutory authorities is critically needed.

"The time is right for others to adopt and support Fund interventions and deliver on the promise of a shared society that is free from sectarianism and the shadow of paramilitaries."

Of the IFI's 32 projects, 17 involved working with marginalised young people at risk of paramilitary activity, signposting them to the organisation's Personal Youth Development Programme.

It also supports the Peace Walls Programme, which helps build confidence and relationships in interface communities. It aims to help residents reach the point where they feel it is safe to remove peace walls in their area.

Last month the IFI announced its latest round of funding - £3.6m committed to 32 community projects across Northern Ireland.

This latest package brought total funding to more than £6.5m in 2016. Dr Johnston added: "Since our Community Consolidation - Peace Consolidation Strategy launched last year, we've invested with confidence in bold projects that have enabled communities to reverse the severe effects of division and divert young people away from the influence of armed gangs."

A spokesperson for the Executive Office responded, saying: "Good progress has been made on a range of Fresh Start commitments by the Executive, British Government and the Irish Government."

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