20 May 1999 Edition

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Working Community Restorative Justice - A case study in talking

By Ned Kelly

In the second of four articles examining the positive effect Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) can have in mending community relationships, Ned Kelly reports on a case in West Belfast.

The problems of young people hanging around and drinking on street corners is not unique to West Belfast nor to nationalist communities. It is a problem the length of the country and throughout the world. And while it doesn't involve serious crime as such, the impact it can have on local communities can be devastating. The smashed glass and public urinating, the loud music and tension combine to create not only a dangerous environment for younger children but also an intimidating atmosphere for local people using local shops or just out walking.

In this case, members of a local community in West Belfast approached the restorative justice team about problems with a group of local young people who were `hanging out' in the area. They and other older members of the community felt intimidated walking past the group and on several occasions had been subjected to verbal abuse that led to confrontation, this sometimes became very serious.

Two members of the Upper Springfield CRJ team firstly confirmed the substance of the alleged complaint - that there was a group of up to 17 young people in the area drinking and playing loud music. The young people were approached by the CRJ team members and asked if they would attend a meeting to address the concerns of local residents.

They agreed to attend a meeting at a local facility and with the CRJ team entered into a process called assisted analysis. The CRJ team listened to and identified the issues of concern for the young people. These issues and concerns were noted and a follow up meeting arranged for a short time later.

A meeting was then arranged for the local residents who felt aggrieved by the activities of the young people and also the parents of the young people. Again concerns and issues raised were noted and a meeting of local residents and the young people to come together was set up.

At this meeting, ground rules were clearly set out - people were to respect the views of others and to listen while others spoke. The issues raised were clarified and the people involved were asked for their ideas on a way forward that would address the needs of everyone. The young people agreed that their actions were having a damaging effect on community relations and agreed to reduce the volume of their music after a certain time, to stop drinking from glass bottles, which young children were regularly breaking the following morning, to clean up the area and involve themselves in a mural project that they could relate to as their own. They entered into this project with local residents aimed at improving the local area - working in partnership with the Housing Executive and the Upper Springfield development Trust URBAN youth programme and the Arts project.

One thing that emerged from the meeting was that the young people were attempting to take into account the feelings of local residents by being quieter when residents passed the group. But the impact of the young people going quiet was to make them feel increasingly intimidated. A clear misunderstanding.

It was agreed that community relations would be improved if people were talking to each other on a regular basis.

At the end of the process, the young people understood why the local community was complaining about their behaviour and realised the effect they were having on the local environment. The local residents agreed to address the young people in a courteous manner and to work alongside them in the agreed projects. For their part the CRJ team agreed to monitor the overall project and to evaluate the agreements made on a regular basis.

This case highlights the amount of work generated by each single case and the time given by the CRJ team as each involves numerous meetings aimed at looking at the different angles and needs of the different groups. It underlines the need for still more people to become involved.

And while it is not a case of waving a magic wand and the problems disappearing, it does provide a route forward to building trust, understanding and respect. It involves people talking directly to each other.

On Friday 21 May, people in the Greater Turf Lodge and New Barnsley areas, Moyard, Dermott Hill, Westrock, Whiterock and Mount Alverno interested in undertaking CRJ training should get to the Whiterock Community Centre for 7pm for a presentation and enrolment. Alternatively they should leave their names at the Frank Cahill Resource Centre or telephone Tommy Holland on (01232) 238928.

Next week, Ned Kelly looks at the training involved in CRJ and talks to people who are looking to become involved in their local schemes.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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