Ormeau Road community group is threatened by cuts
A flagship community organisation once held up by Stormont politicians as setting an example of how Catholics and Protestants can live and work together in peace has warned that savage funding cuts could force it to close its doors.
Ballynafeigh Community Development Association has lost £56,000 in funding. Four jobs in the centre on Belfast's Ormeau Road have been axed and another two are due to go, reducing its staff by almost 60%.
Supporters of the organisation will today stage white-line pickets on the Ormeau Road. The group's deputy director, Gerry Tubritt, said: "Ballynafeigh is an area of Belfast where Catholics and Protestants and members of ethnic communities live side-by-side.
"Our association, formed in 1974, is the beating heart of Ballynafeigh. We've helped build a unique community where people from all religious, political and cultural backgrounds live and work together. There are no peace walls in Ballynafeigh."
More than 5,000 people live in the south Belfast community. Around 300 local groups use the organisation's premises, including an African prayer group. The biggest chess club in Northern Ireland also meets there.
The cuts to the association's budget have been made by Belfast City Council, the Department for Social Development and the European Social Fund.
"I don't know if we can survive," said Mr Tubritt. "A generation's work in developing and fostering relations will be wiped out."
He added the group hoped to meet the council "and have the opportunity to discuss the matter and strongly put our case".
In 2013, on a visit to Ballynafeigh, Stormont's Social Development Committee hailed the centre as "a beacon of hope for a shared future".
But Mr Tubritt said: "We're meant to be the face of what the new Northern Ireland should be like, yet politicians are now effectively putting us out of business."
Local SDLP councillor Declan Boyle said he strongly supported the community group.
"An organisation held up as a role model is being pushed off the cliffs," Mr Boyle added. "Unfortunately, we live in an era of cuts, but the speed and sweeping nature of these ones are totally unfair and unreasonable."