Belfast Telegraph

Interface barrier to be opened up

An interface barrier which has divided north Belfast for 20 years is to be opened.

The metal and concrete structure was put up following sectarian clashes between Catholics and Protestants in a deprived working class area a few miles from the city centre.

It is the latest obstruction to be removed from one of the most divided parts of Northern Ireland.

Kate Clarke, a worker at the North Belfast Interface Network, said: "It became a question of how do we strengthen relations within communities, and it was seen that these barriers were an element that stood out as showing division so how could we address those."

The barrier at the junction of Limestone Road and Newington Street will remain open from 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday for three months until a review. It was designed to bar traffic but allow pedestrians through following a spate of killings.

Part of the delay in the reopening resulted from the opposition of local people to making the street a thoroughfare again - because of increased traffic volumes rather than enmity. Traffic-calming measures quelled their concerns.

Justice Minister David Ford said: "Progress in removing barriers will depend on community support and I welcome the engagement of the people in the Newington area who are prepared to take this positive step. The Department of Justice is committed to working in partnership with local communities who want to remove such barriers and to take steps to build a shared future."

North Belfast was one of the hotspots of the Troubles, with a large proportion of killings confined to that densely built-up area. It is a patchwork of small Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods where many people who are close neighbours were also bitter enemies during the conflict.

North Belfast still features annual bouts of rioting linked to dissident republicans and Orange Order marches but efforts have been made by community workers to improve relations and the area is usually relatively quiet. A gate at Alexandra Park, the only park in western Europe with a three-metre high fence running through the middle, was recently removed.

There are almost 90 barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods across Northern Ireland, most in Belfast. More walls have been erected during the peace process than during conflict and within them many people use segregated services like schools. A £2 million fund aimed at bringing down Northern Ireland's walls by building confidence between divided communities has been announced.

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