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Limestone Road flashpoint wall could come down

Scene of almost constant rioting in 90s undergoes dramatic turnaround

By Rebecca Black

Published 29/10/2016

Community workers Leanne Marshall, Kate Clarke and Ciaran Shannon
Community workers Leanne Marshall, Kate Clarke and Ciaran Shannon
Leanne and Kate beside the peace wall

What was once one of the most troubled areas of Belfast has been transformed - to the point that there are now talks about removing a peace wall.

In the 1990s the lower Limestone Road area saw almost constant rioting - with disturbances even breaking out one Christmas Day - and tall peace walls were put up to separate the warring sides.

The Limestone Road, which runs parallel to Duncairn Gardens, provided a dividing line, between the mainly nationalist Parkside and Newington areas and the loyalist Tiger's Bay and Halliday's Road areas.

But it is almost eight years since the last serious disturbances in the area and residents have started consultations about removing a peace wall as new homes are built on one side of it.

Duncairn Community Partnership manager Ciaran Shannon said 2007 was the turning point in the area, but that only came after a lot of hard work. Now, community workers Leanne Marshall and Kate Clarke, who come from different sides of the divide, regularly work together in the partnership.

They saw the first fruits of their labour in 2011 when a gate in the peace wall which divides Alexandra Park was opened.

Initially it was opened for a limited time, but now it is opened at dawn every day and closed at dusk.

Ciaran Shannon said consultation is going on within the community about removing the barrier, which overshadowed Mountcollyer Street and Alexandra Park. But he emphasised there must be agreement and consensus before any barrier is removed.

Kate added: "Fifteen years ago we had Christmas Day riots and we never would have considered this. There were attacks day and daily, people were in fear for their lives".

They all put the transformation down to leadership.

"We were lucky that a number of people came together at the same time and could bring this about - both sides and the PSNI, everyone came together," said Ciaran.

They paid tribute to help from the International Fund For Ireland (IFI), which provided assistance to the area through its Peace Walls Programme.

The Peace Walls Programme (PWP) is aimed at assisting interface communities to bring about conditions that can allow the transformation of the barriers. To date, the Fund has invested more than £3m in seven PWP projects that have fostered important community discussions and secured agreement for ground-breaking alterations at a number of interface sites.

Last year the Fund announced plans to allocate up to £10m to extend and expand the programme.

The 2016-2020 PWP will build on the successes of the first phase and support communities to convert the confidence and relationships established into transformation.

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