Task Force slammed as Sectarian
Sandy Row scheme a ‘slap in the face’ for community workers

Nationalist representatives in South Belfast have reacted with fury to this week’s announcement of a special task force for the Village and Sandy Row.

The task force, made up of senior civil servants and headed by Belfast Regeneration Office, was announced this week by direct rule minister John Spellar and will examine social issues affecting the staunchly loyalist South Belfast districts.

However, nationalist political and community representatives have slammed the move as ‘sectarian’ and ‘a slap in the face’ for grassroots workers struggling to deal with social issues in other deprived areas.

South Belfast Assemblyman and former Belfast Mayor Alex Maskey described the decision as ‘sectarianism at the heart of government’.

“Obviously I would welcome any initiative which seeks to tackle the difficulties and problems in any deprived area in Belfast or anywhere else for that matter,” said the Sinn Féin man.

“However I am concerned that this initiative will actually set one community against another by excluding other areas of South Belfast, such as Donegall Pass, Lower Ormeau and the Markets - which were part of the original neighbourhood renewal scheme alongside Sandy Row and the Village.”

Lower Ormeau community worker and South Belfast Partnership Board member Michael Goodman said the government commitment amounted to nothing more than appeasement after the recent spate of attacks on nationalist residents at Whitehall Square in Sandy Row.

“What it is essentially is a reward for bad behaviour,” said the community worker. “The people in Sandy Row and the Village create problems and the government rewards them.

“This has happened because of Whitehall and the attacks on ethnic communities, that’s why it’s happened now. Someone is advising the Minister along these sectarian lines and he has bought it.”

And the community worker insisted the social and economic difficulties faced by people in Sandy Row and the Village were common across South Belfast.

“The DSD have made a very serious mistake and we are challenging them to produce the evidence to back up statements that these problems are particular to Sandy Row and the Village.

“These problems particularly apply to Taughmonagh, Lower Ormeau and the Markets and there is no justification for special treatment for these two areas alone.”

However South Belfast DUP Association Vice Chairman Christopher Stalford rejected claims that the move was sectarian.

“I don’t see how this could be viewed as sectarian, helping an area that is one of the most deprived in the country,” said Christopher.

“We hope this is a pilot scheme which eventually will be extended across the city to other areas that suffer from social deprivation. I welcome the task force.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development said that although Protestant working class areas face a unique set of problems all areas will benefit from the scheme.

“It is Government’s aim to use the lessons learned from this pilot exercise to inform work in other areas experiencing problems of a similar nature,” said the spokesperson.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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