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David Cameron: Let's take down Northern Ireland peace walls and build shared future

By Rebecca Black

Published 12/04/2014

The peace gate in Alexandra Park in north Belfast
The peace gate in Alexandra Park in north Belfast

Prime Minister David Cameron has called for Northern Ireland's peace walls to be taken down in a dramatic intervention following the results of a Belfast Telegraph poll.

We revealed on Monday that two-thirds of young people here do not see their future in Northern Ireland.

The shock revelation emerged from a survey carried by out by polling company LucidTalk among 16 to 24-years-old.

It also revealed that 65% of young people believe there is no peace here, and that only 50% mix a lot with those from the other main community.

Alliance MP Naomi Long raised these findings at Westminster on Wednesday during Prime Minister's Questions.

She told Mr Cameron that 67% of 16 to 24-year-olds believe their future lies outside Northern Ireland. Ms Long also referred to another finding from the poll that 70% of young people do not believe that local politicians are capable of agreeing a shared vision for the future.

The East Belfast MP said these stark figures should act as a "wake-up call to those who continue to indulge in the politics of division and fear to start showing real leadership to inspire young people".

Mr Cameron agreed and although he praised progress in Northern Ireland, he told the House of Commons that the 48 peace walls should be removed.

"What we need is politicians in Northern Ireland to build a shared future, to take down the peace walls, and to make sure that the economy can grow and opportunities are there for everyone in Northern Ireland," he said.

However Mr Cameron also spoke of how struck he was by seeing Deputy First Minister raised a glass to the Queen during a banquet at Windsor Castle earlier this week.

"Anyone who believes that change is not possible or that politicians cannot rise to a challenge in Northern Ireland will have been struck–as I was–by seeing Martin McGuinness around the table at Windsor Castle, toasting the Queen at the banquet celebrating British-Irish relations," he said,

"People have come a huge way and we need to continue that vital work, including the work to fight racism and sectarianism wherever it arises."

Speaking after the debate, Ms Long welcomed the Prime Minister's sentiments.

"I am pleased the Prime Minister agreed what Northern Ireland needs is politicians to build a shared future, which would lead to the removal of barriers to participation and create the optimal conditions for growing our economy, ensuring better opportunities," she said.

"Of course, gestures and historic moments are an important part of moving society forward, but we need a rapid maturing of day-to-day leadership on a shared future to deliver the benefits where it matters for everyone.

"The constant bickering and squabbling needs to end, and there needs to a united focus on building a shared and prosperous future."

The number of peace walls has multiplied over the last decade from 18 in the early 1990s to 48 today.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson represents an area of north Belfast where a large proportion of the peace walls are located.

He has strongly disagreed with Mr Cameron's call for remove them.

The Belfast councillor has argued that a great deal more work needs to be done before people who live in the shadows of the peace walls feel secure enough for them to be taken down.

"There has always been peace walls in people's minds," the north Belfast representative said.

"This is the difficulty, even before there was peace walls in people's minds, that is the sort of society that they grew up in.

"I think a lot of work needs to be done before walls can be taken down.

"People would need to be able to feel comfortable before walls can be taken down."

Mr Hutchinson continued by saying there has been a "brain drain" of young people leaving our shores for years.

"If people want to get jobs, of course they are going to go to the UK," he said.

"Lots of our young people go to universities in the UK and never come back. It's nothing new.

"What we need to do is actually create jobs to keep our young people here."

BACKGROUND

There are currently 48 peace walls across Northern Ireland separating Protestant and Catholic areas.

Located mostly in Belfast and Londonderry, they stretch in total for more than 21 miles, intended to keep the peace between our two main communities.

Last year the Northern Ireland Executive committed to the removal of all peace lines by mutual consent by 2023.

DUP 'committed to change after youth opinion poll'  

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From Belfast Telegraph