LARNE Borough Council has been urged to work with the communities in Carnlough and Glenarm in a bid to heal local divisions.
A new Good Relations Strategy presented to the council calls for the continuation of investment in community leadership and the development of meaningful relations and projects between the two communities.
The document presented at the council’s monthly meeting by John O’Neill from Venturei Consultancy also commits the local authority to “investigate the potential for the development of local mediation competency to progress a journey to more reconciled communities”.
After commending Larne Council on its good relations performance in recent years, Mr O’Neill recommended retaining its good relations officer post and creating a new position of community relations worker.
He also mooted the possibility of a borough-wide community forum to identify shared opportunities and recognised the need to continue facilitating the bonfire management group and a multi-agency flags group.
Community groups and traders consulted for the audit recognised leadership in good relations by the council itself.
The audit stated: “By acting as a prominent role model, Council has set a positive example for good relations through improved civic leadership. Key to this process and messaging is the Bangor Agreement, which has seen Council rotate key positions and set a visible example of partnership working and effective leadership.”
Since the agreement, there had been “less negative messages filtering through to the local media”.
It was recognised, however, that there are geographical pockets across the borough where tensions still appear.
It was acknowledged that flags remain contentious in some areas and that the parades season can be a difficult time.
Mr O’Neill added: “Feedback from stake holders recognised that, despite much progress at the local level, there is an issue around the external perception of Larne - the borough frequently suffers from negative publicity which is not aligned with the view on the ground.” Locals believed Larne had “moved from an area of sectarian tension and influence to a more normalised, stable community within the context of Northern Ireland moving forward” and was “on a par with other areas”.
It was felt that there was a need to instil greater community pride across the borough, cementing and celebrating grass roots activity.
Consultees had also voiced “strong consensus for work with young people in order to encourage good relations”.