Editor's Viewpoint: Hope on the road to reconciliation
There is good news and bad news in the latest report from the Community Relations Council at the start of this year's Community Relations Week.
The chairman, Tony McCusker, has highlighted the good news that thousands of events have taken place and tens of thousands of people have participated in Community Relations Weeks since 2003.
However, the bad news is that the number of interfaces in Belfast has quadrupled to around 88 since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
Paradoxically, while more people are taking part in cross-community initiatives, the physical barriers on the ground have increased dramatically. Clearly a great deal more needs to be done, and Mr McCusker has highlighted some of the many challenges involved, including the provision for segregated education, residential segregation, the misuse of flags and emblems, contentious parades, racism, and other indicators of a troubled society.
Such factors are depressing but it should not be surprising that 40 years of sustained violence, political deadlock and community tensions cannot be overcome in just a few years.
The journey towards true reconciliation and normality will take a long time, but it is important to pay tribute to the achievements so far of the Community Relations Council, and also to underline the importance of the annual Community Relations Weeks, and also the cross-community activities throughout the rest of the year. It is also important to keep the goal of good community relations on the agenda, and to provide a platform for discussion on relevant themes, including this year's challenging subject 'No More Them and Us?'
There have been spectacular successes such as the sharing of the new Peace Bridge in Londonderry, and the progress on opening up the interface at Alexandra Park in north Belfast. No-one should rest easily until the last walls and interface barriers are dismantled, but in the meantime there is real hope, as seen in the touching story of two young people from different communities in Belfast who have become friends through a cross-community initiative. That is a great example for everyone.