£2m to tear down Northern Ireland peace walls
A £2 million fund aimed at helping to dismantle peace walls across Northern Ireland is being launched today.
The International Fund for Ireland hopes to hear proposals from local groups on how confidence and cross-community relationships could be developed.
And the organisation, funded by donors from the United States and Europe, will consider supporting capital projects such as a shared community space where contacts could develop.
The fund believes momentum for tearing down the walls is there, but needs to be bolstered and intensified.
And it has learned of tentative moves in a number of areas attempting to create the conditions where the concept of nearby walls coming down could begin to be considered.
But it is also aware of how sensitive some contacts are and said "there is still fear in many communities about them coming down too quickly".
Across the province there are still at least 60 walls, gates or fences - 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement and more than 20 years into the peace process.
Most of them are in Belfast, but there are also barriers in Londonderry, Portadown and Lurgan which together stretch for more than a dozen miles.
IFI chairman Denis Rooney (below) said: "Since the 1994 ceasefire, the number of barriers has grown.
"However, many community groups, some with the support of the fund, are doing courageous work across interfaces and in the past few years their conversations have moved towards when, rather than if, the barriers will come down.
"The physical removal of these barriers is a matter for the Department of Justice but the fund believes that its peace walls programme, which is complementary to other initiatives that are under way, will help create dialogue, build trust and confidence and develop greater cross-community cohesion with a view to communities reaching agreement that it is time to start removing the barriers."
The programme was welcomed by Justice Minister David Ford who pointed to the draft Programme for Government commitment for his department to "seek local agreement to reduce the number of peace walls".
Some progress in Belfast has been made in recent times. An interface structure at Alexandra Park has been opened for a trial period without incident, work is on-going to remove the barrier at Newington Street, and the gate at Northumberland Street is open for an agreed time on Sundays.
Alliance Party leader Mr Ford said: "A real window of opportunity exists to continue the progress we have made in recent months on interface structures. The more resources we can dedicate to building confidence in interface communities, the greater the opportunities for success.
"The commitment and the funding package announced today by the International Fund for Ireland can only help to bring us closer to the removal of more barriers."
The programme allows applicants to come up with solutions and at their own pace. For more, log on to www.internationalfund forireland.com/media-centre. The £2m could also be increased depending on the number and quality of applications.
North Belfast has 20 peace barriers - either walls/fences or gates. West Belfast has 18 and east Belfast four - 42 in the city overall. There are 11 in Derry, five in Portadown and one in Lurgan. Over the last year the interface at Alexandra Park in Belfast has been open for a trial period and a gate at Northumberland Street is now open for an agreed time on Sundays.