Belfast Telegraph

Cast vote for eastern promise

By Alan McBride

My first night living in east Belfast, I decided to walk into town to get some exercise and take in my new surroundings.

Not knowing the demographics of the area, I made the mistake of walking on the Short Strand side of the Newtownards Road when two young people came running out from the loyalist side to abuse me.

The following weekend, the flag protest kicked off, right outside my flat, and I felt I had made a huge mistake.

At the start, it was nightly, then it was weekly, for months.

There were times when the road was blocked off and I couldn't move.

The atmosphere was intimidating as petrol bombs were thrown by young people masked by the Union flag.

I am still here, but have come to see a different east Belfast than the one characterised by sectarianism.

East Belfast has lots going for it, but there is a deadly threat that needs to be avoided.

The poison coming from sectarianism and racism is real, demonstrated in some of the murals and graffiti.

It's alive and kicking in the language used by the gatekeepers claiming to represent both loyalist and nationalist communities in the area.

It's these images, sending out a message that it is not a welcoming place for those who don't tap into the sectarian rhetoric.

This deters investors from starting up businesses and from providing employment opportunities, keeps people apart, and also increases fear and suspicion of those we consider "not to be like us".

East Belfast goes to the polls on the May 7.

I urge every resident of voting age to ask themselves what kind of east Belfast they want to live in and what political party is best placed to deliver that vision.

I gave a talk at the Skainos Centre recently when a member of the audience said to me: "What this country needs is a party that is neither green nor orange."

I agreed, but we have had one for some time and, in this General Election, your vote can ensure their policies of inclusiveness represent the good people of east Belfast.

Alan McBride is centre co-ordinator of the Wave trauma centre in Belfast

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