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Shared future only way ahead: Appeal for a calm summer as Community Relations Week begin

Northern Ireland will remain vulnerable to sectarian violence so long as there is an absence of an agreed approach to community relations, it has been warned.

But the chief executive of the Community Relations Council Jacqueline Irwin said community and voluntary organisations continue to drive work to quell tensions.

Community Relations Week, which begins today, is “a statement of hope for the future”, she said. This year’s series of events organised across Northern Ireland takes place on the back of a turbulent number of months for community relations after the Union flag row and last year’s difficult parading season.

Ms Irwin said the tension sparked by the flag row at Belfast City Hall last December had raised serious issues. In a bid to allay growing fears within communities, Community Relations Week will involve a number of initiatives and programmes which aims to tackle contentious issues.

Ms Irwin went on to commend the hard work carried out to retain good relations throughout those months of unrest and called for political leaders to continue their efforts to create an all-party group.

Ms Irwin said: “The issues of earlier in the year have not been particular helpful to community relations.

“Community relations is constantly changing, it’s never going to be steady and it will never be resolved. What we need to is make sure we build up sufficient strength and endurance within our community throughout the year to be able to deal with shocks that come from time to time.”

She acknowledged that the flags issue had “made the overall context more difficult”.

She added: “The main thing, as we go into the summer months, is to be sure that there is a sufficient positive mechanism for dealing with that and that the community has different ways of dealing with issues.

“There is no doubt that the flags question has raised some fundamental issues for our political structure to work with and come up with solutions.”

She said the Executive should establish an all-party group to help tackle contentious issues.

This year’s Community Relations Week has the theme ‘Expressing Identity And Addressing Division’.

For more details, log on to www.community-relations.org.uk

Belfast Telegraph