Crumlin Road residents wave goodbye to dividing wall
Residents living at one of Northern Ireland's most volatile community interfaces have welcomed the replacement of an eight foot peace wall that used to overshadow their homes.
The brick wall that separated nationalist and unionists homes on Belfast's Crumlin Road has given way to railings and landscaped greenery as part of on-going efforts to remove the physical divisions of the past.
The so-called peace walls were erected during the Troubles to provide a temporary protection from the sectarian violence of the 30-year conflict.
But many remain almost two decades after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, providing stark reminders of the region's troubled history and the work still left to achieve reconciliation.
The Stormont Executive has committed to removing the 50 remaining barriers by 2023.
The interface between the Ardoyne and the adjacent unionist Woodvale/Twaddell area is still the source of intense community tension, with a dispute over an annual Orange Order parade a major obstacle in the path of progress.
But the removal of the wall has been characterised as at least one step in the right direction.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive owned wall built 30 years ago to protect nationalist homes in the Ardoyne area, off the Crumlin Road, was taken down in February.
Residents held a party on Thursday to mark the completion of the new-look fencing. There are hopes similar structures on the edges of Woodvale will also soon disappear.
Jeanie Copeland, whose terraced home looked out on the brick wall for 30 years, said the development was "class".
Her house now has a clear view of the Holy Cross church on the other side of the road.
"There was fear factor in the beginning, I think people were a wee bit iffy about bringing it down," she said.
"It's down now, it's for the grandkids, it's beautiful, it's class and the kids can run out and play and sit out in the grass. I love it. Before you felt very fenced in."
Another resident, Deirdre Hughes, said she felt more part of the community.
"It's completely different, even to look out from your living room you are not looking at a brick wall," she said.
"To look at the chapel and view and all - it's beautiful. You were blocked in before, you couldn't see what was going on.
"Now you feel you are part of your community. You felt you were living in a war zone before with that wall."
The decision to remove the barrier originated with the local residents and they helped design the replacement structures.
The project was supported by the Housing Executive, the International Fund for Ireland, Stormont's departments of justice and communities and the Executive Office.
The celebration was organised by the cross-community, inter-agency body set up to help in the process of taking down the walls, the Twaddell Ardoyne Shankill Communities in Transition (TASCIT).
One of the guests was Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
"Government can set ambitious targets to reduce and remove all interface barriers by 2023 and put in place strategies and resources, but no progress will be made without the support of the local community," he said.
"Dismantling a wall 30 years after it was built does more than just transform the physical landscape. It sends out a strong signal progress is being made and the most encouraging thing isn't the bricks of an eight foot wall lying flat on the ground but the fact it was a community-led decision.
"Real peace is not made by bricks and mortar but by building respect and trust. As a result of conversations and relationships formed and developed within the community we can achieve greater reconciliation, create better educational, training and employment opportunities, improve access to essential services and deliver a better quality of life for those living in interface areas.
"Reconciliation has been hampered by physical divisions so to help build a truly shared, united and reconciled community, we need to remove these structures."