Leader in local Christian Charity calls for an active response to sectarianism

August 11, 2010

Published Ballymena Guardian, 11 August 2010

A former Ballymena youth worker has called on churches to respond to the Executive’s Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration in the wake of a recent sectarian incident. Jeremy Gardiner, who now works for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), believes that Christian leaders need to be involved in transformative action so as to prevent repeats of the paint attack in Harryville.

Only three days after Peter Robinson and Martin McGuiness published their proposals to deal with sectarianism and hate crime, vandals damaged Our Lady’s Church with paint in what the PSNI described as a sectarian attack. Under the new proposals, ministers will adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to attacks motivated by sectarian, religious, racist or hate prejudice. “The attack on Harryville church on Saturday past shows even though there seems to be progress at Stormont, division is still embedded in our communities,” explained Mr Gardiner, who is the Assembly and Development Officer for CARE in Northern Ireland.

As a youth pastor with High Kirk Presbyterian church, Mr Gardiner was involved in cleaning up Our Lady’s Church in 2005 after a similar attack. “It was an act of rolling up our sleeves, reaching out and addressing the divide. It led to conversation between the Catholic Church and local community leaders, and as a result the UDA mural in the area was removed. Whilst the recent attack in Harryville was dispiriting, and one wonders if anything has changed, churches in the area can once again take a lead.”

A public consultation process on the so-called shared future strategy has been launched and will run until the 29th October. Meetings on the proposals which can be attended by anyone will be held throughout September. Jeremy Gardiner, who in this year’s General Election helped organize a debate for the candidates in a local church, believes that church leaders and members need to seize this opportunity to respond. “As Christians, we can engage with the consultation process and take seriously our call to pursue justice. The church needs to think about its role in this process, and to speak with a prophetic voice.”

Building from his own experience of working with different communities, Mr Gardiner believes that churches have a physical response to play within contested communities. “We can’t simply say our piece and expect everyone to listen. We need to follow the biblical principle to love our neighbour, in how we respond to the attacks that happen in our neighbourhoods, and in how we interact with those who are different to us. The vision of the church is to speak good news to the circumstances it faces daily, and we ought to be doing that with our hands, as well as our mouths.”


Not all students to blame for riots

March 25, 2009

Published: Belfast Newsletter, 25th March 2009, page 14

Robin Peake, 23, is a Final Year History and Journalism student at the University of Ulster, Coleraine

As students, we are as appalled as anybody at the inexcusable behaviour witnessed in Belfast’s Holylands area on Tuesday. The area has long been an issue in local news coverage and remains a topic that springs to mind any time students are mentioned.
With a BBC survey on the same day showing that many universities want a sharp increase in tuition fees, with some desiring the removal of a cap altogether, this was not a good day for students to garner sympathy for their cause. Already seen in some quarters as tax-dodgers, a drain on the public purse, lazy and drunkards, we have an ever increasing battle to fight if we want to promote a positive image.

I am personally ashamed that fellow students could cause such a diversion of PSNI resources, particularly at a time when 350 officers have been deployed to join the hunt for the dissidents responsible for last week’s murders. I am ashamed that students cannot enjoy a day off in a peaceful manner, adding to the colourful festivities that the rest of the city enjoyed, and instead caused such disruption and chaos.

The blame for Tuesday’s antic lies not with the police whose heavy-handed approach was only necessary because of the threat to public property and personal safety that the mob was presenting. Nor does it lie with the Universities who cannot be held liable for the behaviour of their students off campus. The blame lies squarely at the feet of those students and non-students who allowed excessive drinking habits to fuel such behaviour which has further tarnished our flagging reputation.

The reality is however, that such incidents are rare. The good weather seen on Tuesday combined with the fact the universities were closed were major contributing factors in the all-day drinking binge that culminated in the scenes that layered our newspapers yesterday morning. Students are demonised somewhat, but we are not as bad as we allow ourselves to be portrayed. Students from University of Ulster, Magee have this year embarked on a ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ mission, to practically support local residents and promote the reputation of students in the Maiden City. Here at Coleraine the Students Union are liaising with the Council for a litter pick up in off-campus accommodation areas. Some students from the Christian Union did something similar last year after the North West 200 motorbike races and residents were as impressed as they were surprised by what they saw. And right across the University of Ulster campuses, thousands of pounds were raised for various local charities during Raise and Give (RAG) week held in the middle of February. These are student driven initiatives designed not as some form of propaganda, to convince the rest of the population that deep down we are nice people, but because we believe that as students and residents we have a responsibility to serve the community that we are a part of.


‘Rowdy’ students disrupt north coast resort

March 19, 2009

Published Belfast Newsletter, 19 March 2009, page 9

Students in the Holylands area in Belfast were not the only culprits of disruptive behaviour last Tuesday. There was trouble too in Portstewart, where a significant number of students attending the nearby University of Ulster, Coleraine live throughout the week. In Old Mill Grange, off Lisadell Avenue where a large proportion of students living off campus reside, students were reported as putting traffic cones and roadwork signs in the middle of the street, forcing drivers to manoeuvre around them. Arguments fuelled by alcohol spilled out into the street and rowdy behaviour was noted from 6pm onwards, forcing police to step up their patrols of the area which they had been visiting all day.

Rebecca Golding, 20, an English and Education student at the University who lives in the area said; “I get extremely annoyed when students give other students a bad name, when many of us have simply come to University for a good education”. Whilst she said that there was “nothing wrong with a party here and there”, she condemned the behaviour, saying “It shows a lack of respect for other residents and brings down the reputation of the vast majority of students here.”

Local Alliance Councillor, Barney Fitzpatrick firmly expressed his disapproval towards the Students’ behaviour. “I completely condemn this sort of behaviour. Just because students had a day off from University is no excuse to spend it drinking excess amounts of alcohol which inevitably results in this kind of behaviour” he said. Cllr Fitzpatrick went on to say however, “This behaviour is in no way representative of the majority of students here at Coleraine. The Students Union has liaised well with local residents and the police to seek to minimise this behaviour and some students are involved in initiatives to serve the community.”