New research pins down who owns the ‘peace walls’
A new £2m fund aimed at bringing down Northern Ireland's peace walls by building confidence between divided communities was announced last week, in the same week as the Belfast Interface Project released its Security Barriers and Defensive Use of Space document in City Hall — a document locating all of Belfast’s interfaces.
They commissioned the Institute for Conflict Research (ICR) to collate information on interfaces across the city.
The purpose of such a plan is to create ‘a common information set’ regarding the distribution of security barriers and defensive architecture in residential areas of Belfast, including blighted spaces close to interfaces.
ICR Director, Neil Jarman said: “The last piece of research was a four page brief description of security barriers in Belfast.
“There are images from 2005 onwards, including blighted spaces.
“There are issues of deprivation for people and how to use vacant land around these sites.
“There was lots of confusion on barriers and the idea was to provide a definitive list.”
Niall O’Donnghaile, Belfast’s mayor said: “This is a very useful tool, there are a whole range of reports and studies into interface issues that make it difficult to deal with them.
“This is a document made by local people who know the issues and know the dynamics.
“This isn’t about solving issues so much as it is about showing who has responsibility for buildings and taking walls down.
“When you consider some of the money spent on building walls I think the best we can expect is a cost will be involved but it may well be worth it.
“It will be useful if people can get access to it and it is important to get key people in the room and go some way to help in ultimately removing these walls,” he added.
There are almost 90 barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods across the region, the vast majority in Belfast. Ironically, more walls have actually been erected during the peace process.
The IFI's Peace Walls Programme is designed to be the first stage in a process leading to the removal of the walls.
IFI chairman Dr Denis Rooney said while considerable momentum had built up in recent years for the walls to be removed there was still fear in many communities about them coming down too quickly.
"There are some 88 peace walls/barriers, mainly in Belfast, stretching over 21 kilometres in total," he 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 is complementary to other initiatives that are under way, will help create dialogue, build trust and confidence .”