A Minister who has witnessed all the many ups and downs of the Ballykeel area in recent years has said he is ‘disheartened’ by the trouble which flared in the district earlier this week.
The Rev. Martin McNeely of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church said such disruption ‘never benefits the community’.
In a heartfelt statement, he opened up on his hopes for the area before finishing with a plea for ‘community respect.’
He said: “ As local community residents know, Ballykeel and the surrounding area has suffered greatly in terms of mental health, suicide and drug use and abuse. Often these problems are joined together, sometimes they are not. Either way, the community has borne much pain, compounded by challenges in terms of education and employment.
“It has been heartening to see community initiatives grow over the last year. The determination to start youth football and many positive ideas emerging in Ballykeel 1 and 2 groups have pointed to a better way forward. Local people have brought hope through initiatives at Christmas and recently this past Easter. It is so encouraging to see this.
“Had it not been for Covid 19, a number of ideas which I have discussed with Church members and other stake holders, might now have been a reality. These are some of the ideas I have been working on and am keen to progress :
*A monthly Friday night fry event for dads, lads and granddads - aimed at providing food and an opportunity to hear from men who have succeeded in terms of coping with pressure in sport, relationships, rearing kids, beating addictions, education, military service - and many other areas.
*A weekend away had been suggested for younger men: camping, exploring challenges outdoor hill walking or by the sea.
*Regular weeknight football for young and old up during the winter.
*Free (or low cost) Boxercise training sessions for girls and / or young men.
*Political and cultural debates in which aspects of identity can be examined and discussed. Serious attention would be given to the thoughts of those that differ from their own perspectives in order to challenge young people to think for themselves and be equipped to engage with positions they disagree with.
*The employment of a full time Young Life worker who will engage teenagers in church, school and estate.
“In all of this of course, there would be the spiritual dimension - rooted in our Christian understanding of young men and women as being made in God’s image and capable of greatness in life. It is only when we are deeply invested in seeing personal bonds of love grow in our relationships that we can support one another - especially when we experience temptation or stress.
“It is frustrating that we have not been able to execute these ideas. But Lord willing, they will in due course develop - the need is great. Young men especially in working class estates like ours need to be valued, encouraged, mentored and challenged by others - especially others who have made mistakes, but who are now committed to seeing better days ahead for all.
“It is disheartening to see disruption. History teaches us this never benefits either the community in general nor the young men in particular. It annoys the majority of residents. It costs money in repair. It sets back the reputation of the community and it makes young people look ill thought through in the face of their perceived political opponents. It gives cover for those who have interest in other criminal activities. It blackens the record of young people who ultimately are arrested and become subject to judicial process.
“Our hope must be that young people will respond to the challenges we face not with aggression, but with a renewed vision for a better Northern Ireland, their own self respect, respect for their families and the communities they grow up amongst. Our expectation must be that our political leaders actively join with us over coming months in building the self esteem of young people in estates like Ballykeel.
“Many people have worked hard to make life better for the whole of Ballykeel. My role is to preach, pastor and pray. I work alongside other Christians and support community leaders, in the hope that lives are changed. I continue to be thankful for the privilege of serving in this part of Ballymena.”