The so-called peace walls are the most vivid manifestation of the divisions in Northern Ireland and should be seen as a cause for national shame.
It is difficult to convince the outside world that the province has moved into an era of peaceful co-existence when whole communities feel they have to be separated by huge walls.
The pledge by the First and Deputy First Ministers to lead efforts to tear down the walls is a welcome one. Clearly there are people living in the shadows of those edifices who feel they are necessary, but they cannot be allowed to continue as symbols of a riven society. There needs to be close co-operation between all political parties, community workers and local residents on how the walls can be removed.
That is one of the initiatives suggested in the draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration which has gone out for consultation. The document, which has been an inordinately long time in preparation, pledges a zero tolerance of sectarianism and racism and promises joined-up government which will take into account equality impacts in all its decisions.
It is a document high on rhetoric but with less evident measures for implementation. However it provides a framework for discussion and everyone who wants to see greater equality and harmony in Northern Ireland should make submissions on the document. There is a canvas there ready to be written on and the politicians should be left in no doubt that the vast majority of people want pro-active measures taken to bridge the divides in society and to respect differences in culture.
After the pressing economic problems facing Northern Ireland, the religious and cultural segregation in society is the most important.
We have to be able to demonstrate that the high hopes of a new era for the province will be realised and that a more cohesive community spirit will prevail. The day we start tearing down the peace walls will be the real dawn of the new Northern Ireland.