Northern Ireland peace walls should stay, say 7 out of 10 residents
More than two-thirds of people living near peace walls in Northern Ireland believe they are still necessary, new research has found.
Only 38% of residents could see a time when there would be no such barriers dividing communities even though almost 60% would like to see the back of them, according to the academic study by the University of Ulster.
Around 60% of those living in the shadow of the walls also expressed concern about the police's ability to preserve peace and order if they came down.
Researchers found different perceptions when they widened their survey to the overall population. Only 38% felt peace walls were necessary while 60% could envisage a time when they would all be gone.
Four out of five people in the wider survey felt that segregation was common across the region, even where there were no walls.
There are almost 90 barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland, most of them in Belfast.
Their numbers have increased since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The findings by the government-funded University of Ulster research team comes amid ongoing initiatives to explore the possibility of reducing the total.
One of the report's authors, Dr Jonny Byrne, said: “It is important to recognise that 69% of those that live closest to peace walls believe that they are still necessary, due to the continuing potential for violence.”
Co-author Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan said the research indicated that providing more information and having greater engagement with people living near the walls would facilitate a better public debate on the issue.
“64% of the general population believe that peace walls should be a big priority for the Northern Ireland government — and 63% of peace wall residents would like to know more about initiatives and discussions about the peace walls,” she said.
“This shows that there is a huge public appetite for greater engagement between the communities and those responsible for peace walls.”
“There was considerable confusion among peace wall residents about who exactly was responsible for decision-making around the walls in their areas — only 4% correctly identified that the responsibility actually lies with the Department of Justice.”