Belfast Telegraph

Ardoyne teenager confronts the Secretary of State over the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement.

Anna Maguire

A teenager from one of Northern Ireland's most deprived urban areas has confronted the Secretary of State face-to-face over the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement.

Fionntan Marley put the high- ranking politician on the spot at a question-and-answer event for school pupils marking the 15th anniversary of the Agreement.

"I live in Ardoyne and we still have paramilitaries, interface violence, no opportunity for work, poor housing, policing problems and poverty," the 16-year-old told a packed room in Belfast's Mac building.

"How do you suggest that the Good Friday Agreement has impacted on our lives?" he demanded. The anodyne answer he received was disappointingly general – and relatively vague.

"There are still big issues to resolve in Northern Ireland – and if there's sectarian tension, it's often those who live in interface areas that feel it," Theresa Villiers said.

But her platitudes offered little promise for Fionntan and his north Belfast community.

"I thought she would give me a better response.

"But I think they were not really expecting that question," he said later.

Explaining the predicaments faced by Ardoyne, he said: "People want to move on and we are faced with problems – and I wanted to know what politicians are doing to resolve them.

"We can be frightened to walk about in case paramilitaries attack us and we would be getting threatened.

"Interface violence is kind of scary as well.

"You can get jumped and beat up because of your religion. The quality of the housing is bad.

"Some people are having to squeeze three people into one room.

"It's stuff people do not know about but it's really affecting people.

"And the opportunity for jobs in Ardoyne is not there at all."

When asked again to answer the schoolboy's question, Ms Villiers said the UK Government was determined to give the PSNI every support in tackling paramilitary violence. But Fionntan added: "I do not think she can do much for my society.

"Some local politicians are doing things for our society. We need more local politicians in there."

Meanwhile, Ms Villiers told journalists and school pupils that it was depressing that some young people involved in disorder earlier this year were not even alive at the start of the peace process.

She again appealed for a committed effort to build a society which has rid itself of sectarianism.

Warning that lawlessness sends a negative message round the world, she added: "Respect for the rule of law is a crucial message."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph