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Irish President praised for flashpoint visit

In the week following the violence on the Streets of east Belfast the Irish President Mary McAleese has been welcomed to the interface by both facets of the community.

The President visited a community centre on the Short Strand and an East Belfast Mission shop on the Lower Newtownards Road.

Over 100 people turned up at the Re:Store shop to meet Mrs McAleese and her husband Martin, a native of east Belfast.

Across the ‘peace wall’ children from St Matthew’s Primary School lined the street, waving tricolour flags as the Irish President arrived at the Short Strand Community Centre.

She met Niall O’Donnghaile there — Belfast City Councillor and the City’s Lord Mayor — along with some senior citizens and local community members.

Mrs McAleese said it was “very special” to be accompanied by her husband — the first Irish Senator to come from the Short Strand.

On the Newtwonards Road unionist politicians and former loyalist leaders were among the crowd crammed in to the East Belfast Mission store.

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Loyalist leader Jackie McDonald — spokesperson for the Ulster Political Research Group — and Mrs McAleese greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek.

The UPRG spokesman said Mrs McAleese’s visit was “all the more significant” after last week’s violence.

“She has never been afraid to carry on,” he said:

“The recent violence could have been used to say, ‘I’ve other commitments’, but she’s the sort of person who says, ‘there’s been trouble but tomorrow’s a new day’, and I think that’s a lesson she teaches everybody.”

She shook hands with everyone in the shop and then addressed the crowd, saying that the cross community and charity work they were doing was “phenomenal”.

She urged people to “end the culture of ugliness and begin a culture of good neighbourliness” at a time when six people were arrested as part of the police investigation into four nights of violence at the lower Newtownards Road and Short Strand interface last week and the weekend before.

Mrs McAleese said: “It’s tempting, when we get impatient to turn our backs on the people we don’t want to help the process, but we have to love them, they’re part of our lives, our neighbours.

“Now is the opportunity to be patient, but patient in the kind of way that doesn’t give up.

“We need to give each other the courage to keep going.

“We've got to try and make sure that for the future of this community people are able to walk these streets no matter who they are - Catholic or Protestant, nationalist or unionist, gay or straight, coloured, non-coloured,” added Mrs McAleese.

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