20 February 1997 Edition
Sinn Fein convenes community conference
By Eoin O'Broin
Opening a one day special conference in Twinbrook, West Belfast, on developing a community response to anti-social behaviour, Gerry Adams said, ``The aim of this meeting is quite simple. To discuss the issues raised by anti-social behaviour and seek to identify the means by which it can be effectively tackled. In short we are looking for a coordinated community and multi-agency strategy which makes best use of all the available resources; can demand additional resources, and which can make a real difference to the people of West Belfast, and indeed act as a blueprint for other areas''.
The conference, held at the Dairy Farm Civic centre in Twinbrook on 12 February, brought together 150 local residents, political representatives, community activists, voluntary and statutory sector workers and government department officials.
One of the conference organisers, Sue Ramsey of Sinn Féin, said, ``No single coordinated strategy exists to tackle anti-social behaviour. While there is a lot of good work going on among many groups, few are aware of what each other is doing, and few have real working relationships''.
Michelle Martin from the Falls Community Council spoke of the need to include young people in any strategy to combat anti-social behaviour. With over 4,000 under-18s in the Twinbrook and Poleglass area, she warned delegates of the implications of criminalising all young people. ``Young people want to cooperate with community patrols,'' she said and called on delegates ``not to treat young people as enemies''.
Local mother Deirdre Johnston told of the terror when the joyriding reached its peak over Christmas. ``I could no longer watch the community I live in being destroyed in front of my eyes,'' she said, defending the community patrols. ``People were frightened to walk their own streets''. She also criticised the media for ignoring the reality which residents faced and only ``looking for sensationalist headlines and stories''.
She said that over a four month period 600 cars were stolen from all over Belfast, and driven through Poleglass and Twinbrook, a third of which were burned locally. ``Since December there has been a massive drop in the levels of so called joyriding and burnt cars,'' she said. ``This is a direct result of the community patrols''.
Oliver Brannigan from the Probation Board and Paddi Sloane from Making Belfast Work stressed the need for greater cooperation between community groups and statutory agencies.
Jane Donaldson, giving a republican youth perspective reminded delegates that, ``most murderers, rapists, child abusers, drug abusers, alcoholics and criminals are adults. They set quite an example for young people to follow.
``Children and young people are the future of all communities. Perhaps it is time that adults began to challenge their attitudes and behaviour towards young people. They are human beings with fears and feelings and rights''. Donaldson called for young people to be consulted on issues and initiatives which affect them, and for young people to be included in all aspects of community development.
Donaldson was one of many speakers who highlighted the role played by the RUC, reminding delegates that ``the RUC are keen to use and exploit young people as spies and informers. Through their record of intimidation and manipulation, the RUC have shown the people of Twinbrook and Poleglass as in most nationalist areas that they have no constructive role to play in resolving the problems of anti-social activity''.
After the conference Gerry Adams called for a Department of Environment Task Force to be set up in order to develop traffic calming measures for areas ``blighted by the scourge of car thieves.
``Today's conference is an unparalleled initiative,'' said Adams, ``it brought together community groups and statutory agencies as the first step in properly tackling a problem which has been with us for a very long time. The consensus view was for the development of a coordinated strategy; for the efficient use of resources and greater resources from the British government''.