Belfast Telegraph

Dean of Belfast fears lack of political leadership could be exploited by criminal groups

The Dean of Belfast has said that a lack of political leadership in Northern Ireland could be exploited by criminal groups.

The Church of Ireland's Stephen Forde told BBC Radio Ulster that if decisions can no longer be taken by politicians, then other groups will lock to exploit the vacuum of power.

Banbridge native Dean Forde is preparing for his annual 'Black Santa' charity sit-out and said that the benefits system was not working and was contributing to homelessness.

He said that he often finds homeless people sleeping on the steps of St Anne's Cathedral.

"Sometimes the stories are really tragic, and it really shows you that the system is not working," he said.

"In the 21st century, it should not be the case that in one of the most affluent countries in the world we have people sleeping in doorways.

"There are problems with the system when people find themselves without employment and it's a long wait for finance to come through."

Dean Forde said that a lack of political leadership had left communities "less stable, less secure".

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing assembly since the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

"There's always a danger, if people aren't given leadership by their politicians, that they'll sometimes turn to those who come up with easy answers, people who have their own agenda," the Church of Ireland clergyman said.

"If nobody can make decisions about how the police are funded or how policing is to be done, then there will always be somebody else to step into that gap.

"So who, then, is going to make the decisions and how are things going to be taken forward?"

Dean Forde also called for greater community engagement from those behind the new £500m 'Tribeca' regeneration project near St Anne's.

"What's important for any such development is that there is engagement with the people in the area who are most affected by it," he said.

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