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Plans to tear down Northern Ireland peacelines must have local support: Naomi Long

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Flax Street interface gates

Flax Street interface gates

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Naomi Long

Naomi Long

PA

Flax Street interface gates

Peacelines in north Belfast should only be removed with the agreement of local residents, it has been warned.

It follows reports that Justice Minister Naomi Long is examining proposals to reopen some of the barriers.

They were placed at five locations between loyalist and republican areas to prevent inter-community violence.

Mrs Long confirmed officials were in discussions to:

  • Replace a permanent fence with a new automated gate on Flax Street, which separates the Shankill from Ardoyne.
  • Open a continuously locked pedestrian gate to give Woodvale residents access to the Crumlin Road.
  • Remove security fencing adjacent to homes on North Queen Street at the bottom of the New Lodge.
  • Take down security fencing at the Squire's Hill/Hazelbrook Drive interface dividing unionist Ballysillan from nationalist Ligoniel.
  • Replace a barrier erected in the grounds of Hazelwood Integrated Primary to prevent missile throwing with a regular perimeter fence.

She was responding to an Assembly question by Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin.

The most controversial of the north Belfast interface proposals is to replace the security fencing at Flax Street with an automated gate.

The street, which links Ardoyne to the greater Shankill area, was sealed off permanently in the late 1980s because republican and loyalist paramilitaries used it as a rat-run to carry out sectarian murders.

In her written response, Mrs Long said the proposals formed part of the Department of Justice Interfaces Programme.

She said: "This ensures that we secure maximum community consent from people who live on both sides of an interface structure to support any reduction or removal scheme, taking account of the local context."

Although politicians are committed to having north Belfast peacelines taken down, some residents are nervous that the move could leave their homes vulnerable and lead to renewed sectarian violence.

North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey said the structures should only be removed with the agreement of those living in their shadow.

He added: "It is important to remember that security structures were erected in order to prevent attacks from taking place and people living on interfaces can still feel vulnerable.

"For some residents, they feel that fences and gates provide valuable protection to their homes.

"Any minister working towards this goal must do so in partnership with communities rather than seeking to impose their will upon them."

Ms Ni Chuilin said many people across north Belfast wanted to see the gates at interfaces opened.

"Managed opening of the gates would reconnect areas which have been cut off from each other and make getting about much easier for local people," she added.

"I have asked the Department of Justice to look into opening a number of interface gates in the area."

A total of 99 peace barriers are in place in Belfast, with the vast majority based in the north of the city.

Belfast Telegraph