The opening of a second interface barrier in one the Troubles’ worst hotspots marks another milestone in north Belfast’s shift away from its violent past.
While politicians and activists yesterday cautioned against expecting a domino effect of peace walls coming down quickly, there was a sense of optimism that progress would continue.
As motorists drove the entire length of Newington Street for the first time in more than two decades, Sinn Fein councillor Danny Lavery said it was a step in the right direction.
A steel gate was installed at the junction with the Limestone Road in the late 1980s, following a spate of killings.
It included the murder of father-of-two Terry McDaid, gunned down as he sat watching TV with his family in a case of mistaken identity.
But, as one community activist said, we are in a new era now, and the interface gate finally opened yesterday — with the only concerns expressed over increased traffic volumes. It marked a three-month trial which will see Newington Street open on weekdays from 7am to 4pm.
Mr Lavery said that it was a “tiny step” towards more peace walls coming down in the city.
“The way to do it is slowly but surely,” the councillor said.
“We hope it’s a step in the right direction.”
When asked if he would like to see more peace walls coming down, he said: “The more the merrier, but provided the residents who live beside them are in agreement.”
The opening at the Newington interface will provide some relief for parents, who now have a quicker route to transport their children to Holy Family Primary School.
Rab McCallum, a co-ordinator with North Belfast Interface Network (NBIN), said that the need for the gate’s removal was recognised right across the community during a lengthy consultation process.
It is a major step forward for an area which, until very recently, was blighted by regular sectarian violence.
Kate Clarke, from NBIN, who was instrumental in the cross-community negotiations, said: “This was a very volatile interface at one time ... from the 80s right through to 2006. We are in a different era now.
“A lot of work has been done by both communities.”
Central to the decision to erect a steel gate blocking off vehcile traffic on Newington Street was the fatal shooting of Terry McDaid (29) over 20 years ago.
The young father-of-two was shot dead by loyalist gunmen in May 1988.
Family members — including his parents, wife and |daughters — witnessed Mr McDaid’s killing.