Belfast Telegraph

Communities need backing of Stormont: IFI chairman

Appeal: Paddy Harte
Appeal: Paddy Harte

By Rebecca Black

Communities are working to divert young people away from paramilitaries but they need the support of Stormont, the chair of a funding body has warned.

Paddy Harte took up his position at the International Fund for Ireland in March.

His chairmanship has come at a challenging time, with devolved government in Northern Ireland collapsed, Brexit, and violence on the streets.

Mr Harte paid tribute to communities, calling them the unsung heroes of the peace process, but warned that too much is now being expected of them.

"A lot of progress has been made by communities, however, they can only take that so far, you cannot have a healthy, prosperous society without a functioning democracy - that's just a fact of life," he said.

Mr Harte described some of the work the IFI funds as diverting young people away from paramilitary groups.

"One of the projects we fund targets hard-to-reach young people, young people who are vulnerable to recruitment by dissidents," he added.

"Our programme is very targeted, our mentors will literally - with the permission of parents or guardians - go to the bedroom door to say: 'I would like you to come to our course today'.

"If they don't turn up that day, they'll go back the next and persist until they get the young people on the programme so they can then begin to get skills that will get them into employment eventually, build up their personal resilience, expose them to other cultures, expose them to the adverse consequences of violent conflict.

"You can see from the bomb on Bishop Street in Derry and the Lyra McKee murder that it's very easy to get young people who are vulnerable involved and once they are involved, the consequences then begin to appear for people.

"There is no point in saying we run those programmes, you have to actively go and talk to the young person until you can get them confident enough to actually go into a room where there are other people doing the course."

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