Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

New peace fence at east Belfast church is a wake-up call

Orangemen march past St Matthew's Church in east Belfast
Orangemen march past St Matthew's Church in east Belfast

The transformation of 'peace' walls and the regeneration of interface areas is complex.

It requires us to understand the legacy of conflict and to see beyond division to a society that appreciates and makes the most of our differences and diversity.

With the help of local and international funding, the Community Relations Council has been working for many years with communities to establish an interface transformation process at both policy and practice level.

Core to this has been collaboration between Government policy-makers, service providers, funders and community practitioners.

The journey from the early conversations to transformation and from practice to policy has been both challenging and inspiring.

The lessons from this journey of hope, determination and perseverance have been drawn together by CRC in a set of publications launched this week to help others to change the patterns of the past and create a new normal.

The announcement by the Department of Justice of a new peace fence at St Matthew's Church in east Belfast is a wake-up call.

That we should be so many years into our peace process and still building fences to protect us from each other should be a warning to all.

The design of the fence, made of wire netting and retractable when not needed, says something about the ambiguities in our transition out of conflict.

A retractable wire netting can be either a look back to the past, or a warning for the future.

Every year that passes is another year in which our children grow up learning to distrust and fear each other. We don't get those years back again.

Distrust and fear are components of conflict and they prepare the ground for sectarianism.

For that reason, work on building and sustaining peace, having shared goals and treating each other with dignity and respect is urgent.

We may think that we need to take our time until everyone is comfortable with change, but in reality we don't have the luxury of waiting for an opportunity that is better than now.


Jacqueline Irwin is chief executive of the Community Relations Council

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