Northern Ireland

Bringing peace and pizza to the interfaces

Trouble on interfaces in Belfast over the summer showed that tensions between the police and some parts of the community can still boil over despite the peace process.

But behind the scenes efforts are being made to build bridges and reduce hostility.

The BBC has been given exclusive access to Pizza and Peelers, an initiative where police officers get to know young people over a slice of pizza.

But is this any more than a PR exercise?

The scheme has been running at several youth clubs in west Belfast over the last two years.

'Ice-breaker'

Inspector Gillian Green says they are willing to try anything to improve relationships.

"Pizza and peelers came about as an ice-breaker, somewhere where we could get normal interaction with local young people and help them realise that police don't always operate from behind armour-plated glass," she said.

The young people at this event are all under 12 - even so they already had some firm views about the police.

Anthony Mulholland said: "Before, I didn't like them but now they're not bad. I know they have to do a job to keep scumbags off the street."

Protestant children from the nearby Springfield Star football team also attend.

The children play on mixed teams and some of the youngsters admitted it was the first time they had met Catholics.

Success

"Before I'd just seen them on TV and thought they were bad, but this has changed my mind," one child said.

Community workers on both sides say it has been a success.

But are the police preaching to the converted by targeting children already part of a youth club?

Inspector Green insists not.

"We need to reach out to kids who aren't engaged with the really vibrant community support structure already in place and that's where the really hard work will start, but we all keep trying because we have to," she said.

Schemes like Pizza and Peelers would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

Those involved hope to build on its success and see a reduction in problems at the interfaces.

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