Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Peace walls 'are still necessary'

The largest peace wall in Belfast, at Cupar Way, which separates the Catholic Falls area and the Protestant Shankill area of the city

More than two thirds of people living near peace walls in Northern Ireland believe they are still necessary, new research has found.

Only 38% of residents could see a time when there would be no such barriers dividing communities even though almost 60% would like to see the back of them, according to the academic study by the University of Ulster (UU).

Around 60% of those living in the shadow of the walls also expressed concern about the police's ability to preserve peace and order if they came down.

Researchers found different perceptions when they widened their survey to the overall population. Only 38% felt peace walls were necessary while 60% could envisage a time when they would all be gone. Four out of five people in the wider survey felt that segregation was common across the region, even where there were no walls.

There are almost 90 barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland, most of them in Belfast. Their numbers have increased since the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998.

The findings by the government-funded UU research team come amid ongoing initiatives to explore the possibility of reducing the total.

One of the report's authors, Dr Jonny Byrne, said: "It is important to recognise that 69% of those that live closest to peace walls believe that they are still necessary - due to the continuing potential for violence. Although 58% would like to see the walls come down now or at some point in the future, only 38% could actually envisage a time when this would happen".

Co-author Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan said the research had also indicated that providing more information and having greater engagement with people living near the walls would facilitate a better public debate on the issue.

"64% of the general population believe that peace walls should be a big priority for the Northern Ireland government - and 63% of peace wall residents would like to know more about initiatives and discussions about the peace walls," she said. "This shows that there is a huge public appetite for greater engagement between the communities and those responsible for peace walls."

The research project was funded by Stormont's Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

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