Shankill woman Eileen Weir who quit UDA as teenager honoured for her peace work
A Shankill woman who joined the UDA as a teenager but quickly realised her potential as a future peace-builder has been recognised with a major award for her decades of community relations work.
Eileen Weir first volunteered with Shankill Women's Centre in the late 1990s and now is the recipient of the 2018 Community Relations Exceptional Achievement Award.
Ms Weir was presented with her award yesterday at the Community Relations Council's (CRC) annual David Stevens Memorial Lecture at The Duncairn Centre in north Belfast.
The annual award recognises the exceptional achievement of an individual in promoting community relations, intercultural work or peace-building in Northern Ireland and is intended to highlight the ongoing, courageous work of this nature.
Eileen had only turned 16 when she briefly joined the UDA.
However, it was a short time after that she ended her associations with the loyalist paramilitary group and pursued full-time employment in women's equality and fair employment matters.
For a short while after being made redundant in the late 1990s, Eileen facilitated black taxi tours of the Shankill area for tourists and international visitors.
It was during this time that she first volunteered with Shankill Women's Centre, a decision that would lead to years of dedication to women in the area, bringing them together to explore differing beliefs and identities.
She also ensured that their largely under-represented voices in relation to the Good Friday Agreement and peace process were heard loud and clear.
Eileen also worked with prisoners released early under the Agreement, many of whom had been incarcerated for more than a decade, helping them to integrate back into society, secure employment and adapt to family life.
Upon receiving her award, Eileen remarked: "I'm incredibly humbled."
"As an outreach worker based at the Shankill Women's Centre, I've dedicated my career to community relations in north and west Belfast and to similar work throughout greater Belfast. Over the years I've seen many ups and downs, but I work every day on the ground with all our local communities.
"We're beyond the traditional divide of Catholic and Protestant and our communities encompass so much more diversity.
"Every day, more residents and volunteers are stepping up to the mark to promote good relations. It's encouraging for the future of Northern Ireland and for the profound positive impact it has on our local community. I'm extremely proud to have played my part in nurturing such an environment and I'm honoured to receive this award from the Community Relations Council."
Peter Osborne, chairman of the Community Relations Council, said: "Eileen's journey, her courage and remarkable achievements deserve this recognition from the Community Relations Council. She is living proof of how peace is built from the grassroots.
"For almost three decades, Eileen has been at the fore of crucial cross-community work in the Shankill area, work that has had a profound impact on its community.
"The narrative during the conflict in Northern Ireland was a largely male one - the narrative of peace building must include everyone. Eileen is a powerful advocate for an inclusive, empowering approach."