Belfast Telegraph

Ford: I'm an avowed opponent of divisive structures

By Adrian Rutherford

Justice Minister David Ford has revealed he has refused requests to put up new peace walls in the four years since he took up post.

Prior to devolution, the Northern Ireland Office had responsibility for peace walls.

The Alliance minister was critical of their approach of installing new structures at any request.

Mr Ford revealed he had refused permission for the extension of a wall in a contentious area of East Belfast.

He said he was particularly dispirited by a new peace wall put up in 2007 beside an integrated school close to the borders of his south Antrim constituency.

"The last structure that was put up by the Northern Ireland Office was about two years before devolution, a defence between Throne Park and Hazelwood Integrated Primary School which, as a not-quite representative for the area – my constituency stopped about 100 yards away – I opposed," he said. "It was completely ironic, the defence was put up about six months after the last incident. There had been good community engagement going on, not least by the principal of the school, and then the NIO came along and stuck up a fence."

Mr Ford said he tries to avoid putting any new peace walls up.

The only new structure since he became justice minister in April 2010 was a curtain type structure – a steel curtain – between the Lower Newtownards Road and St Matthews Church. It was installed earlier this year and can be extended and withdrawn.

"We did that on the basis that it would be a curtain when required, not a permanent wall," he said.

"There was a request in the summer of 2010 to extend one of our barriers because of some minor anti-social behaviour. I admit I did commit to plugging a few gaps but I refused to extend it.

"We invested in some diversionary activities for young people and that has actually proved effective with the result that four years later it is an area where there is movement in terms of removal.

"This is an example of positive work done by my team alongside some other agencies."

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