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Walls of steel that neither side of the parades issue wants to see


The mobile steel barrier separating marchers from residents at Tuesday night's Mini Twelfth in Belfast

The mobile steel barrier separating marchers from residents at Tuesday night's Mini Twelfth in Belfast

The mobile steel barrier separating marchers from residents at Tuesday night's Mini Twelfth in Belfast

The use of a mobile wall of steel to keep rival factions apart during a contentious parade has been criticised as a backwards and divisive step.

The huge structure sprung up around the nationalist enclave of Short Strand in east Belfast ahead of a Somme commemoration parade on Tuesday night

Standing eight feet tall, the inter-linked reinforced panels were intended to prevent clashes between opposing sides.

The erection of the barrier – effectively a portable peace wall – is in contrast to the ongoing work aimed at removing Northern Ireland's peace lines within a decade.

Police have not ruled out using the heavy-duty barriers again in an effort to prevent violence over the Twelfth period.

Sinn Fein councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile, who is from Short Strand, said the barriers were not the answer to sectarian tensions.

"The last thing the Short Strand wants or needs is more barriers put around it," he said. "It's not conducive with good policing in 2014.

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"The way to resolve this contentious part of the parade is for the organisers to sit down and talk to us.

"In the short-term it does offer a degree of reassurance in that it reduces the visibility and therefore the impact of the parade, but that in itself is not a resolution."

The mobile wall was previously used in the Short Strand for the same march last year after fierce clashes in the east of the city during disorder around flag protests.

Prior to that, the last time physical barriers were put up around Short Strand was at the height of the Drumcree dispute almost two decades ago.

DUP MLA and Policing Board member David McIlveen said the wall was an unfortunate but necessary measure. "We don't want to see communities divided, we want the opposite. We want to see them working closer together," he said. "But unfortunately there has been a precedent set in that there has been violence on the streets over parades.

"It may well be the vast majority of residents in Short Strand are committed to a peaceful outcome to this parade but we're long enough in the tooth in Northern Ireland to know it only takes a small spark to ignite something quite significant."

The wall ran the full length of the east Belfast housing area and was put in place in less than two hours.

The metal barriers were brought to Northern Ireland in order to bolster security ahead of the G8 Summit in Fermanagh in June of last year.

Officers began assembling the portable peace wall at 3pm on Tuesday, and folded the screens away shortly after marchers had passed.

Mr Ó Donnghaile said a series of talks have been ongoing between residents and police regarding parades and outbreaks of disorder in the area.

Nationalist residents did not stage a protest during Tuesday's parade – a move described by Mr Ó Donnghaile as a "goodwill gesture".

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