£2m plan to bring down peace walls
A new £2 million fund aimed at bringing down Northern Ireland's peace walls by building confidence between divided communities has been announced.
There are almost 90 barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods across the region, the vast majority in Belfast. Ironically, more walls have actually been erected during the peace process.
Acknowledging that the infamous landmarks can only be removed with the support of the people living on each side, the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) project hopes to break down some of the non-physical barriers dividing them first.
The IFI's Peace Walls Programme is designed to be the first stage in a process leading to the removal of the walls.
The money will fund a range of confidence and relationship building initiatives within and between interface communities to help them arrive at a position where residents feel it is safe and appropriate for the walls to come down.
The IFI is an independent, internationally funded organisation promoting reconciliation between unionists and nationalists throughout all of Ireland.
IFI chairman Dr Denis Rooney said while considerable momentum had built up in recent years for the walls to be removed there was still fear in many communities about them coming down too quickly.
"There are some 88 peace walls/barriers, mainly in Belfast, stretching over 21 kilometres in total," he said.
"Since the 1994 ceasefire, the number of barriers has grown. However, many community groups, some with the support of the fund, are doing courageous work across interfaces and in the past few years their conversations have moved towards when, rather than if, the barriers will come down.
"The physical removal of these barriers is a matter for the Department of Justice but the fund believes that its Peace Walls Programme, which is complementary to other initiatives that are under way, will help create dialogue, build trust and confidence and develop greater cross-community cohesion with a view to communities reaching agreement that it is time to start removing the barriers."