14 April 2006

New offices for CRJ open


By Damian McCarney

THIS week Community Restorative Justice Ireland further extended their services in West Belfast by opening new offices on the Falls Road.

Community workers, members of statutory bodies and local businesses crammed into the cosy offices above Raffo’s takeaway opposite the Dunville Park on Monday afternoon to see Fr Des Wilson officially open the new CRJ branch with the unveiling of a plaque.

Manager of the Welcome Centre in Divis, Joe McGuigan, will act as chairperson of the Falls Road branch, but it will be run on a day-to-day basis by project co-ordinator Tommy Farrell and his wife Martha Farrell who is responsible for administration.

Jim Auld, director of CRJI, was delighted to welcome the new initiative and said that the desire to set up a new branch came from within the Lower Falls community after a prolonged period of problems with anti-social behaviour.

“This new branch is fabulous.

“We see it as confirmation of how the concept of restorative justice is developing and is a great boost for morale.

“Lower Falls is the same as everywhere else, as they have some issues that are most visible, such as burglaries, death-driving and anti-social behaviour.

“However, there are quality- of-life issues that affect everybody, such as disagreements between neighbours or general disruption in the community, and it is this that restorative justice deals best with,” said Mr Auld.

CRJI seek to resolve disputes, including crimes, by bringing together the different parties to an incident and finding a resolution through discussions. However, CRJI have found themselves in the media spotlight as the debate over whether restorative justice groups’ should cooperate with the PSNI rumbles on.

CRJI believe that their refusal to accept the legitimacy of the PSNI has led to a government policy of starving the group of essential funding being adopted.

“This [the opening of the Lower Falls branch] has happened despite the denial of any government funding for all CRJ projects.

“Deliberate withholding of funding by the NIO is illegal, in our view.
“They are doing it in order to make us make a political decision which is not in our gift to give.

“They want us to publicly support the PSNI. This is not a decision for the CRJ, it is a decision for the nationalist people.

“Clearly there are a lot of negotiations to be finished on the policing debate.
“The majority of nationalists in the North’s population, who support Sinn Féin, are still opposed to the PSNI so it is not in our gift to accept them,” said Mr Auld.

In his speech at the launch of the project, Fr Wilson said that it was another step towards making West Belfast the “most beautiful and prosperous” quarter of the city. He also welcomed it as a return to the “old Irish laws, before the Christians and Vikings, which were all based, not on punishment, but on restoration”.

Journalist:: Damien McCarney

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