Northern Ireland leaders united in plan to tear down ‘peace walls’
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have pledged to lead concerted efforts to remove peace walls at sectarian flashpoints.
But it's been stressed that the dismantling of the barriers will only happen “over time” and with the support of local communities.
The goal was outlined in a long-awaited community relations strategy unveiled yesterday by the First and Deputy First Minister.
The draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) will be the subject of a public consultation process running until the end of October. A series of public meetings is planned in September.
Among the issues tackled in the document is the continued existence of dozens of peace walls.
It states: “What is required is a number of interventions to tackle the issues which sustain the maintenance of peace walls.
“To this end, OFMDFM will lead in the development of a ... programme with departments, agencies and the community on how best to work actively towards the removal of peace walls.
“The ultimate objective is to create security and safety for the community in ways which would allow the physical interface barriers to be removed over time.
“Decisions can only be taken when the process has reached the point where people from the local community are ready.”
Among the themes outlined in the CSI programme are tackling sectarianism and racism, and ending attacks on “symbolic premises” such as GAA and Orange halls.
Sectarian behaviour at “spectator sports events” is described as being “of particular concern”. A sexual orientation strategy is also planned by the department.
The CSI document has been held up due to disagreements between DUP and Sinn Fein on its contents.
In one of his last acts as PSNI Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde last summer wrote to the First and Deputy First Minister to press for its publication.
Mr Robinson said yesterday: “We have all come a long way in the past decade and it is important that we now build on the good work that has already been achieved in shaping a better future for everyone.”
Mr McGuinness said: “Events in recent weeks emphasise how important it is for dialogue, agreement and joint working.”
The publication of the CSI document was a key demand of the Alliance Party, ahead of its leader David Ford joining the Executive as Justice Minister.
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said his party supported the “document going out to public consultation”.