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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
President praises interface plan
Irish President Mary McAleese
Irish President Mary McAleese met representatives of the group
A cross-community project aimed at reducing sectarian tensions in an interface area of south Belfast has been launched by the Irish president.

Mary McAleese said the Finaghy Crossroads Group was a great example for the rest of Northern Ireland.

The group is co-chaired by a loyalist and a republican.

"Here are people who have given exemplary leadership, stunning leadership in a place which has now a new story to tell," she said.

"There is a strong message going out to other interface areas who are trying to cope with endemic sectarianism, trying to cope with exactly the same kind of problems which are tackled here."

The group aims to help young people, victims of conflict, former prisoners and the socially excluded in the area.

It shows what can be achieved if both communities sit down with each other and discuss issues of common concern
Stiofan Long
Sinn Fein
It has established a three-year plan to address issues such as drug abuse, underage drinking and the lack of youth facilities.

It is being jointly chaired by Stiofan Long of Sinn Fein and Harry Smith, a former councillor with the Ulster Democratic Party, which has links to the loyalist paramilitary UDA.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Long said the initiative "represents a major breakthrough for community relations work in south and west Belfast".

"It shows what can be achieved if both communities sit down with each other and discuss issues of common concern," he added.

Mr Smith said the group had "helped reduce sectarian incidents, tensions and anti-social behaviour in the greater Belfast area".

"However, much work remains to be done and we are pleased with the universal support our programme has been receiving," he added.

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