Call for Belfast interface gates to be shut at night to stop sectarian trouble
The gates at Girdwood community hub should be closed every night in order to stop sectarian attacks at a north Belfast interface, a DUP MLA has said.
The call comes after residents in the Lower Oldpark area were targeted by a group of around 20 young people on Saturday, December 28.
Property and vehicles in the area were attacked and residents reported being subjected to sectarian abuse and intimidation.
In a meeting yesterday with the PSNI, Belfast City Council and Janice Beggs of the Lower Oldpark Community Association, the DUP's William Humphrey said additional steps should be taken by police and the statutory bodies to protect residents.
He said: "These were disgraceful attacks in which property and vehicles were damaged and residents were subjected to sectarian abuse and threats of further attacks in the main week of Christmas.
"Due to concerns of further attacks over the New Year period, we welcome (the fact) the gates of the Girdwood complex onto Cliftonpark Avenue were subsequently closed on the evenings of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
"It has long been the desire of residents in Lower Oldpark that these gates should be closed every evening when the complex is closed, due to the regularity of sectarian attacks upon their homes and property.
"We welcome that the PSNI has confirmed that the attacks on December 28 are being investigated as sectarian hate crimes."
Resident and community worker Ms Beggs echoed the call. She said the violence witnessed on December 28 marked an "escalation" of tensions in the area since August, with the gates providing an access point for violence.
"We haven't seen this type of sectarian attack in the area before," she said.
"It is quite frightening. The youths tended to go through the Girdwood site as a run-through. The gates are always open but residents have been asking for the last year or so that they be closed when the facility is not in use.
"Parents need to step up and consider where their young people are at night. We need to put a stop to these sectarian attacks."
In a statement the PSNI said: "Over the festive period, police received and responded to an increase in the number of reports of criminal and anti-social behaviour at several areas across north Belfast with the Ligoniel and Lower Oldpark areas showing the biggest increase in reporting.
"Following further discussion with the community and local representatives, I can confirm that we are treating a number of these incidents as hate crimes.
"We again urge parents and guardians to take control of their young people."