A group has been set up in north Belfast to protect young people under threat from paramilitaries, the Community Telegraph can exclusively reveal.
Called ‘Help’, the group — based in the interface area of Duncairn Gardens — has been formed as tensions are said to have reached “crisis point” in some areas in the north of the city.
Help director Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond McCord jr was murdered by the UVF 13 years ago, said the new cross-community group will meet terror groups head to head in a bid to ease tensions in troubled areas like Tiger’s Bay and Ballysillan.
It is understood an increasing number of young people and their families are now living in fear of paramilitary bosses and have come to the group asking for help.
Mr McCord said the group had the support of people across the city — in Ardoyne, the Shankill, Rathcoole and Newtownabbey.
“Tensions are very high in north Belfast at the minute, people are under threat from paramilitary groups and it has to be resolved,” he said.
“I think we have reached a crisis point.
“We have met with these people who are under threat and have decided to meet those who are issuing these threats head on.
“We have to talk to them to resolve this problem.
“Up until now no-one has been hurt but the fear is if we don’t act someone could be seriously injured or worse.”
Help, which is being supported in its actions by the Community Relations Council, has a litany of objectives which include addressing victims’ needs in relation to justice, truth, legal aid, financial aid and mental health.
The group, which aims to be the “voice and advocate of victims across Northern Ireland”, has also vowed to address threats against youngsters living in nationalist areas throughout north Belfast.
Mr McCord, who remains under threat from loyalists following his relentless campaign work against paramilitaries since his son’s death, says it’s time for all paramilitaries to “pack their bags and go away”.
“Speaking as an individual, and not on behalf of the group, I would like to say to these people that people don’t want you. I can’t understand why you continue to even exist. I, like a lot of people across north Belfast, want to get on with my life and these paramilitaries are making this very difficult,” he said.
“I have been threatened in the past and remain under threat but that doesn’t worry me. I know what I’m doing is right. I don’t want to see more people like my son lying dead on the street.
“The good thing about Help is that we have support in both the Protestant and Catholic community — and there’s not many political groups in Northern Ireland that can say that.”