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Weir praises youth workers for keeping peace in interface areas

Education minister says youngsters are being successfully steered away from trouble


Meeting: Minister Peter Weir on the Limestone Road with youth workers Eamon Feerick and Conor Largey

Meeting: Minister Peter Weir on the Limestone Road with youth workers Eamon Feerick and Conor Largey

Meeting: Minister Peter Weir on the Limestone Road with youth workers Eamon Feerick and Conor Largey

The Education Minister has praised youth workers during a visit to three interface areas in Belfast and Newtownabbey.

Peter Weir met with youth workers at Holy Family Youth Centre, Hammer Youth Centre and Rathcoole Youth Centre to discuss recent unrest in interface areas.

The Minister was joined by his under-fire party leader Arlene Foster at Hammer Youth Centre off the Shankill Road.

Commending the work being delivered for young people in the areas, the Minister said he was determined to deliver a comprehensive summer youth programme.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to meet our youth workers today to thank them for the vital work that the youth service undertakes to support our children and young people.

"I fully appreciate the challenges as they respond to the needs of young people living within areas of unrest and I recognise that such services cannot be delivered without the professionalism and dedication of those working in youth service."

During his visits the Minister met with youth workers who put themselves at risk while seeking to encourage young people to move away from engaging in recent disturbances.

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Among them at Hammer Youth Centre were Ryan McFarlane from the Shankill area and Gavin Brown from Ligoniel, both 21, who said youth centres have a key role to play in shaping the futures of young people.

"It's not that we're just trying to get young people off the streets," said Ryan.

"The main thing we're fighting for is for young people to better themselves. We look at how much we've given ourselves opportunities by being involved here and want other young people to see that, see that they don't need to be getting into any bother.

"There's a chance to make the best opportunities for themselves."

Gavin said that addressing mental health issues will be an immediate goal.

"Our focus is now going to be getting them into programmes and offering the chance to get back to normal," he said.

Ryan added that a big motivation for him was being able to encourage young people to try and stay away from the recent riots.

"That's what you need in a youth centre. We need to get the young people back in now and see that they're doing well and not going to riots.

"We don't want to see them involved in anti-social behaviour. They can come down here and spend time with us. It's rewarding for us, and for them."

The Education Minister said the role youth workers have played throughout the Covid pandemic should not go unnoticed.

"Along with my Executive colleagues, I recognise the very valuable role of youth workers in diverting young people who may be putting themselves at risk, from engaging in social disorder. Youth workers provide positive alternative activities for young people," said Mr Weir.

"The role they have played in supporting young people through the pandemic cannot be underestimated.

"It is my intention to deliver a comprehensive summer youth programme to allow young people to re-engage with their peers after what has been a hugely difficult time for everyone," he said.

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