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EDITIONS
Saturday, 16 November, 2002, 18:30 GMT
Group to tackle interface problems
UDA and UVF flags fly  on Tates Avenue in south Belfast
Paramilitary flags demark many areas of NI
A community action group is to be set up to tackle problems with sectarian flags, emblems and graffiti in Northern Ireland, the government has said.

Northern Ireland Office minister Des Browne announced the move in a speech to the Women┐s' Coalition party conference on Saturday.

Mr Browne said the initiative was aimed at reducing tensions at interfaces areas.

The group will focus on improving the environment in which people live by working on problems with flags, emblems and graffiti which he said "disfigured so many areas," Mr Browne added.

Des Browne said action group would tackle interface
Des Browne said action group would tackle interface "environment" problems

He said he is also to start a consultation process towards putting in place a strategy for improving community relations and tackling sectarianism.

He said: "We want to support and build on the efforts being made to grip those issues that have a practical impact on the daily lives of everyone living at interfaces in Belfast and elsewhere.

"To play our part requires a co-ordinated approach across government, together with other key players from within the statutory sector and beyond and that is what this action group will provide."

It is understood the action group will include representatives from the police service, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Community Relations Council.

The announcement was welcomed by Women┐s' Coalition assembly member Monica McWilliams.

IRA mural marks out a republicans area of Belfast
IRA mural marks out a republicans area of Belfast
In an interview for the BBC's Inside Politics programme she said: "There has never been a regional forum like this before.

"There have been some local ones - for example the excellent one in the Springfield area (of Belfast) where ex-combatants are sitting down together every Friday, holding each other accountable.

"For me it is a wonderful example of the peace process working."

Leader of the nationalist SDLP, Mark Durkan, said the new initiative must have real power to tackle sectarianism.

He said: "If we are to build a peace of the people in a shared society, we must have a much more vigorous approach on sectarian flags and graffiti.

"That is why this initiative announced today will only be useful if it has teeth and is driven by 100% political commitment."

Sinn Fein protests

Meanwhile, on Saturday Sinn Fein held a series of protests aimed at highlighted what the party described as the plight of nationalist communities which had borne the brunt of an ongoing loyalist pogrom.

The party organised a series of pickets throughout Belfast.

They included protests outside Musgrave Street Police Station in the city centre and Antrim Road Police Station in the north of the city.

Sinn Fein councillor Michael Ferguson said a campaign of attacks on nationalist communities was "part of a unionist/UDA strategy geared towards forcing the IRA to militarily respond".

He added: "It is essential that we oppose attacks on Catholic communities like the Short Strand.

"We need to ensure that these attacks are seen for what they are - not random, senseless attacks, but rather central to the unionist/loyalist political strategy.

"A strategy that recognises their one party state rule can no longer continue and so ensure that power sharing arrangements fail they need to facilitate sectarianism rather than confront it but blame others for its continuous existence."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon:
"Already officials are working on the plan, though it's not known when the group will have its first meeting"
Women's Coalition assembly member Monica McWilliams:
"There has never been a regional forum like this before"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

30 Oct 02 | N Ireland
16 Aug 02 | N Ireland
05 Jun 02 | N Ireland
02 Jun 00 | N Ireland
02 Jun 00 | N Ireland
02 Jun 00 | N Ireland
21 Jun 00 | N Ireland
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