By Gemma Burns

A North Belfast hostel that houses male ex prisoners including sex offenders that closed for extension work last year is due to reopen in the autumn. Thompson House on the Antrim road shut last June for extension work to be carried out on the building. Local community group Cavehill Antrim Road Regeneration (CARR) has been running an ongoing campaign to ban sex offenders from the hostel when it reopens in the September.

The £2m extension being added to Thompson House will allow it to accommodate up to 19 offenders. The community group says the site is unsuitable for the rehabilitation of dangerous criminals because the Antrim Road has more schools than almost any other road in the North as well as a number of crèches and a home for vulnerable children.

CARR held a meeting at Stormont yesterday (Wednesday) with justice minister David Ford as well as Helm Housing, the organisation which funded the extension, the Presbyterian Board of Social Witness, which own and run the hostel and political representatives for the area – Sinn Féin councillor Mary Ellen Campbell and SDLP MLA Alban Maginness.

Patrick Wilson from CARR said the meeting at Stormont was “very frank” and the community group laid out the reasons why the hostel is unsuitable for sex offenders. “We were at the meeting representing the local community including the local schools, and providing those at the meeting the facts about he issue,” he said.                                   community work he has been carrying out for over 40 years.

“There is a minority of 0.01 per cent in the area who are intent on causing trouble, they have been daubing graffiti on walls and attacking the travelling community but they don’t represent anyone in the community,” he said.

“There is somebody with a lot of hate in them. Bawnmore has suffered enough through the years and we don’t want to go back to the old days where terror reigned.”

Another Bawnmore community worker, Colin Denvir, said the community is fully behind Seamus Kelly.

“This attack has been carried out by one or two anti-community people,” he said.

“For a long time Seamy ploughed a lone furrow doing community work in the area and he is very respected for that. The community is fully behind him and it won’t deter him.”

Newtownabbey Sinn Féin councillor Gerry O’Reilly said the attack was “despicable”.

“A number of local community leaders, including myself and my colleagues, have been targeted by cowardly thugs in these attacks under the cover of darkness across North Belfast,” he said.

“Clearly there’s a tiny element of criminals and people involved in anti-community activity that are challenged by those working to build a safe, family environment. We can’t be deflected by mindless acts like this and people should show their support for the Kelly family at this time.”

He demanded prompt action from the PSNI and urged anyone with any knowledge of this or other similar attacks to come forward.

“The Kelly family are respected in the area and Seamus is working hard by showing leadership on a daily basis to improve our community for everyone,” he added.

Police have appealed for information and have asked anyone who witnessed the incident or who has any information to contact police at Newtownabbey on 0845 600 8000. Information can also be passed anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

 

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