View from Stormont: Children from loyalist communities stories told at cross-community festival

The experiences of children from loyalist communities have featured in an exhibition as part of a cross community festival in Belfast.

Organisers of the 4 Corners Festival insist they wanted to redress the fact that young people like this can be under heard in our society.

The 'Present Future' installation, organised by Northern Ireland Alternatives and Wonder Arts, captured the aspirations of young people in east Belfast, Carrick and Larne.

Debbie Watters, Director of NI Alternatives, said: "Our experience overwhelmingly has been that these young people tend to be demonised, they tend to be marginalised, they feel their voices are not in the room."

View from Stormont has spoken to a group of young loyalist leaders who were behind the project, to find out why they believe there is a need for a project like this. They told UTV young people from PUL communities often feel labelled and overlooked.

Stacey Graham, from Alternatives, said: "I see young people with their hopes, dreams and aspirations, we just need to get to a place where they feel confident in living that out and we need to see investment in communities like the Shankill, where young people can actually live out those dreams they're talking about."

Two year ago riots at Lanark Way sparked conversations about why violence could still flare so easily and why some young people, from both sides of the interface, get drawn in.

In the last few days the trouble has made headlines again when a Westminster committee heard some teenagers were coerced to take part to wipe out drug debt.

The young people we spoke to said that's not a scenario they recognise but insist poverty and a sense of being left behind are the main issues.

Andrew McCormick, from the BAND initiative, said: "The 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement is coming up and PUL communities don't feel they've experienced the dividends from the peace process.

"We're not seeing the dividends coming into education and in terms of facilities across areas and it's a huge challenge that only breeds negativity and lowers aspirations."

Paramilitarism remains a stubborn feature of life in some of these communities, but those who work on the ground insist social transformation alongside policing is key in helping to tackle this.

Loyalism feeling unlistened to is a familiar narrative, even though within the protocol discourse sections of it have made themselves very heard.

But these young leaders hope this 4 Corners' exhibition has encouraged more people not to box them in.

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