MINISTERS from the four main churches in Rathcoole have met with a political representative of the UVF in a groundbreaking face-to-face meeting.
In a joint statement last night, the churchmen said they were disappointed in the image of Rathcoole portrayed following two nights of rioting and felt it necessary to meet with the UVF's political wing,
the PUP, to listen to their side of the story.
"We thought we would allow them the opportunity to put across their thoughts and views as to what caused this recent activity, to explain
from their angle why it happened and who was involved and their role in
trying to curtail it," said one of the churchmen.
The statement followed a meeting lasting almost two hours between six ministers of the Presbyterian Church, the Church of Ireland, Belfast City Mission and Newtownabbey Methodist Church and Ken Wilkinson of
Phil Hamilton, a community development offcer in Rathcoole, was also
The statement, delivered by one of the ministers,added: "Certainly the only thing coming so far was very strong accusations and finger-pointing towards the UVF as the instigator, so it is only right
that they have the opportunity to defend themselves and give their side of the story before strong accusations and condemnations are made."
"We are very saddened by the events that have happened. We are
disappointed that the image and the name of Rathcoole has been tainted because there has been such long and strong good work going on over recent years.
"So it is important that this is not blown out of proportion or not
to apportion blame to the wrong groups to heighten further trouble,
but that it is kept in perspective and curtailed so that there are no
further repercussions and there is understanding from all sides as to what brought it about in the first place and what can prevent it happening again," the minister said.
"The meeting was positive that they felt they were able to voice
their concerns and express their frustrations and disappointment
at how very quickly the fnger was pointed at them and accusations were made without having very strong evidence to back that up.
"And that some of the statements that were made against them they
could very quickly defend and produce people to say contrary to what was being said about them.
"They do accept that there was some responsibility from people within the organisation that they will look at themselves.
"They did not admit there was UVF involvement but it was very diffcult at this stage to categorically say who was or was not involved and it would be wrong to place judgment at this stage, but certainly they felt that there was no order given or no instigation from the command to start it all off.
"We as church representatives share the people of Rathcoole's disappointment. Many are expressing frustration and even anger that this has unfolded because great strides forward have been made in recent years and they want that to continue.
"As members of the various churches in Rathcoole we would callupon all local people and leaders who can exercise any influence to work and redouble their efforts to promote peace and to encourage young people away from any form of rioting," he said.
Mr Wilkinson, of the PUP, said it was the first time in over 40 years
of confict that he had met Church representatives in the Rathcoole
area, adding that he was happy the meeting took place.
"It will let them see the work that is going on within the community.
There needs to be more overlapping and cooperation. I fnd it sad that it had to take until this for that meeting to take place. The finger was pointed in a lot of directions from the ACC.
"We have asked for a meeting with the ACC McCausland and the fire service," said Mr Wilkinson.
"I think only good can come out of this. I hope that we can show
people within the estate who are frustrated and angry that there are
other ways they can protest rather than going down this road.
"I, like other people within the PUP and people connected within the UVF, will continue to work tirelessly. Major strides have been made within Rathcoole and the north Belfast area and a lot of good work has been going on and I wouldn't like to think this would hinder it in any way. I do appreciate that meeting and I hope it's the frst of many," said the PUP representative.
"I hope they will relate to the fears and aspirations of people within loyalism and what they see has been happening to them.
We've worked tirelessly to stop young people retaliating about this
dissident stuff and that's not easily done.
"The other night, that was recreational rioting, sorry to say. They were standing fring freworks at one another and then accusations
were made. And some even said they saw people orchestrating the
youths," he said.