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Riots 'not due to investment lack'

The worst riots for years in Belfast were not sparked by a lack of investment, Northern Ireland's Finance Minister said.

Three people were shot amid two nights of sectarian battles between loyalists and nationalists on streets in the east of the city last week.

Police blamed the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force for orchestrating violence which saw the force caught in the middle, pelted with petrol bombs and other missiles in the Lower Newtownards Road area.

Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson rejected the assertion from loyalist community representatives that tensions boiled over because the government had not handed out enough money.

"For people to say that this is because there has not been new investment in community programmes is a cop out," he said.

He said there had been significant investment in the area, including new housing at the bottom of the Newtownards Road and resources directed towards schools and the voluntary sector.

"These things happen because bad people do bad things and it makes it much more difficult for those of us who want to improve things across Northern Ireland," he added.

An official has been appointed by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at the power-sharing ministerial executive to examine issues affecting the area.

The intervention came after one of the most deprived sections of the city was left reeling from riots, burning cars and confrontations with the police over two nights last week. Three people, including a Press Association photographer were shot during the violence.

The rioting evoked painful memories in an area that was a flashpoint during Northern Ireland's 30 years of the Troubles.

UVF murals of black-clad, gun-toting paramilitaries have been painted recently on the sides of buildings on the Protestant Newtownards Road, next to the Short Strand where the violence flared on Monday.

They have replaced images of George Best, the football star born in the area, or the Belfast-built Titanic.

The peace process has brought benefits. On Saturday a "peace bridge" linking the mainly Protestant Waterside of Londonderry to the mainly Catholic cityside was opened. New buildings have opened throughout Belfast city centre fuelled by foreign direct investment.

Government jobs creation agency Invest Northern Ireland revealed in a review of last year, that the Northern Ireland economy benefits from over £600 million investment and almost £170 million per year in additional wages and salaries.

Questions remain about how evenly spread that wealth has been.

Community Relations Council chief executive Duncan Morrow said: "Millions of pounds have been directed at organisations engaged with paramilitaries, all of which is intended to underpin ceasefires and support democracy.

"We have all signed up to purely political means to resolve disputes. It is vital that we make clear that this is not a pious hope but an absolute determination to defend democracy."

He added: "In the longer term, these events underline the requirement that the excuses provided by sectarianism for rioting and violence must now be tackled head on if we are to isolate this kind of behaviour and remove any ongoing excuse for community control."

Mr Wilson cited the Skainos Project, which is redeveloping a site at the staunchly loyalist Ballymacarrett area of East Belfast, as an example of new development. It features new retail and office space.

Short Strand is an old area which was a flashpoint from the earliest days of the conflict. Skainos will be the newest residential development.

Its website said: "Central to the development is a new street in inner East Belfast, untouched by the history of the Troubles, with the capacity to be genuinely shared space."

© Press Association