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‘Lives are on the line’ if NRC closes, meeting hears

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

‘Lives are on the line’ if NRC closes, meeting hears thumbnailRory Rafferty speaking at the public meeting at Rainbow House on Thursday. Sitting beside him is Kerri Morrow from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

NEWRY Rainbow Community (NRC) Chairperson Rory Rafferty said that "lives are on the line" if the LGBT organisation permanently closes its doors on April 30.

The NRC, which was founded in 2001, faces closure at the end of the month due to a withdrawal of external funding sources, which Mr Rafferty said, has meant that the group has been financially treading water for over 14 months.

Last week the Newry Democrat reported that the NRC's Rainbow House was set to close. The closure of their Monaghan Road building will lead to a reduction in services that could lead to the end of the group, according to Mr Rafferty.

He said, "It's obviously exceptionally disheartening, but more than that. It's creating a void that needs to be filled extremely quickly because, as far as we're concerned, people's lives are on the line.

"This service, whilst it is a lot of fun and there's a lot of joy around Pride and around various other events we do, the bottom line is that the service is a life saver and it has saved thousands of lives in 17 years.

"Our non-essential services have already ceased. Things like suicide prevention is still ongoing and that will cease on April 30 but we're trying to ensure that those essential services at the very least will continue until we find a more permanent solution to the issues that have brought us here."

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's Kerri Morrow said that the council are currently liaising with NRC to try and identify potential new premises and to develop a strategy that can underpin its long-term future.

"NRC contacted the Council for support several months ago and we've been working with them to identify potential premise, whether through statutory or private sector," she explained.

"We've been investigating all variations with short, medium and long-term options and with a view to preserving the service initially and then looking at planning going forward, so I suppose that's our role in being here today."

Mr Rafferty elaborated on some of what he described as the "essential services" that NRC offer, such as suicide prevention and their assist strategy that they operate specifically for members of the LGBT community.

"We also support the general public as well," he added. "We have never turned anyone away who has come up the stairs asking for support, regardless of their sexuality, religion or background.

"We all know that the voluntary and community sector is under serious pressure as it is and this is just another example of a service that cannot afford to close. This organisation has not been funded in almost 14 months.

"Largely, a lot of our funding streams have entirely dried up, there is no longer any European money available since Brexit kicked off, the money we previously sought form the European Union is no longer there.

"The fact is that if we were having this discussion anywhere else on these islands a lot of the issues that we face are not faced and, for that reason, the service is more required here than anywhere else," added the NRC Chairperson.

SDLP councillor Peter Byrne believes that the unseen benefits that the NRC brings to the community.

"It's always asked what services are tangible, it's what you don't see," he said.

"What happens in services like this there's a lot more happens under the radar."

Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon said that the Pride festival, at its very core, is a protest for equality for those within the LGBT community.

Ms Fearon said:"We have to remember that Pride is an amazing day for Newry and it's a celebration, but all of the things that Rory is talking about reminds us that Pride is actually a protest and that's at the heart of the current political impasse."

SDLP Councillor Michael Savage echoed Ms Fearon's comments, and branded it "a disgrace" that the NRC is perilously close to closure.

"What Megan said is right - there are barriers being broken down in relation to issues which people had felt socially uncomfortable to come out with," he said.

"I think the Rainbow Project here has been huge in that to a certain extent.

"There's not a family in this country that isn't touched by this. This has to be dealt with and for us to have NRC under potential threat is a disgrace and I think we as councillors have all said unanimously, certainly those who are within the pro-equal rights element of the council, believe that this needs to be dealt with."

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty lauded the work the organisation has carried out since its launch. "This group has broken down barriers over the last number of years," he said. "It has done incredible work and needs supported in every way possible."

Mr McNulty commended the organisation for their "bravery and courage in the recent past... you have brought equality to the fore of people's perceptions and changed perceptions in breaking down barriers."

Sinn Fein Newry Councillor Charlie Casey said that the NRC had unanimous, cross-party support from councillors in the district in its efforts to stay open.

"I'm here as a local elected representative, trying my very best, along with the other councillors who are here, to try and save this project and identify somewhere within the public or private sector that this group can move seamlessly into," he said.

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