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Anti-social teenagers abuse residents at public meeting

By Evan Short

A public meeting held on Monday night in The Recy to discuss the ongoing New Lodge anti social behaviour crisis was temporarily disrupted when the gang behind the trouble descended on the centre in a bid to intimidate local residents.
Around 200 people had gathered to discuss the deteriorating situation which was described as “worse than the troubles”, when a gang of around 15 began banging fire doors and window grilles.
A bid to engage the youths failed when they entered the building and verbally abused Kate Clarke from New Lodge Safer Streets who had arranged the meeting.
Those gathered heard how people who had stood up to the gang had their homes attacked and have been verbally abused.
Furious residents spoke about how helpless they felt in the face of a campaign of intimidation by the gang who are aged between 9 and 16, with Sinn Féin councillor JJ Magee struggling to be heard at times.
One man, who has lived in the area for 50 years, said he had never seen things as bad.
“There has been a bonfire every night for the last ten nights. I have lived here for 50 years. I was involved in boxing and I have never been as scared.”
Another woman who lives in the Barracks area said she wouldn’t dare venture out after 10pm.
“I can’t visit my sister. All through the troubles you could have walked around but not now. I remember walking home at three or four in the morning but you wouldn’t do it now. I lock my door at 10pm.”
One resident said the Fire Brigade had been called to put out a fire but withdrew after being confronted by the gang.
Cecilia Heron from New Lodge Arts said that all efforts to engage the gang had failed.
“We engaged with the leader of the 2012 bonfire and asked him why he wanted a bonfire. We asked if we put on alternative activities would they work with us, and what he said to us was that it was ‘too little, too late’ – that they wanted a bonfire and that’s what they were having.
“We could have offered them trips to Florida, but they didn’t want them.”
A significant effort to have more planned activities last year also came to nothing, she said.
“We had meeting after meeting last year with the leader of the 2012 bonfire and he ended up telling us he wasn’t involved in it. But on the day of it there he was again, leading the team.”
All attempts to contact the parents of the individuals had also failed according to the youth worker.
“I don’t have the answer; I don’t know what the answer is. The police have been to the doors, CRJ (Community Restorative Justice) has been to their doors, we have went to the schools – everything.
“One young lad’s parents who were confronted said that he was grounded. They told the police they were very sorry. But he was out on the road that night again burning wheelie bins.”
Paul O’Neill from the Ashton Community Trust said the only solution was to hold the statutory agencies to account, as difficult as that would be for some of the people who were in attendance.
“We have been called touts and all the rest of it. Peelers down through the years have done serious damage to me, and serious damage to my family, but we are involved in a process of trying to turn things round, change things, change it peacefully, do it in a way we can make progress – and it ain’t easy. We know at the same time there are people out there in the statutory sector who don’t like us, who don’t trust us, and who don’t really care. But we have to keep on fighting and struggling and making the argument so we do actually change that.”
The residents agreed to return again on Monday (August 4) at 7pm. Representatives from the PSNI, Fire Service, City Council and Housing Executive will attend in a bid to answer the concerns of local people and formulate a process to deal with this issue before the August 8 event.

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